AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday dropped 16 more veto letters on lawmakers’ desks, bringing his career total to a record-breaking 179.
Among the latest batch of vetoed bills were two efforts at Medicaid expansion, which represented Democrats’ last-ditch attempts to achieve their top policy priority of the two-year legislative period. Since the 126th Legislature began in January 2013, LePage has successfully killed three previous expansion efforts with his veto pen.
The first expansion bill vetoed Tuesday, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, was similar to the other bills before it: It accepted millions of dollars in federal funds to expand Medicaid, known here as MaineCare, to roughly 70,000 low-income Mainers, as part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
The federal government would pick up the entire cost of the expansion until 2017, at which point it slowly would ratchet down its funding to 90 percent.
The second bill, sponsored by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, was modeled after plans adopted in New Hampshire and Arkansas, which would use the federal money to buy private insurance plans for the newly eligible low-income Mainers. Both of those plans were approved by Republicans in their respective states.
Eves proposed his plan on the last day of session as a “Hail Mary” play aimed at winning Republican support for expansion, and it passed along party lines — with most Republicans voting against it.
Maine is the only state in New England that has not expanded Medicaid eligibility as imagined by the federal health care law.
In his veto letter, LePage called Eves’ bill a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“It does not matter what state we model ourselves after. Medicaid expansion is still a bad idea,” he said.
In response to the veto, Eves said the bill’s failure would represent “the biggest lost opportunity for the people of Maine.”
“I proposed this plan in good conscience and in good faith, knowing that many of our citizens’ lives depend on access to health care,” he wrote in a news release. “I could not gavel this session to a close without exhausting every option to gain Republican support for health care for the people of Maine.”
LePage has issued 31 vetoes so far this week. The Legislature will reconvene on Thursday for votes to override or sustain at least 46 vetoes that the Republican governor has issued in response to bills sent to him during the waning days of this year’s legislative session, which ended early April 18.
LePage still must take action on a handful of bills Wednesday, which means the number of vetoes for consideration by lawmakers this week could continue to grow.
It will take two-thirds support of both the House and Senate to override any of the vetoes.
LePage on Tuesday also vetoed LD 222, An Act Regarding the Issuance of a Permit to Carry a Concealed Handgun. The bill would significantly reform the state concealed weapons permitting system by ensuring background checks and creating a central database of permit information for police. It also would remove the authority of selectmen to issue permits, making that a function solely of law enforcement officials.
The bill also would increase the fee for a permit while extending its period of validity, and change the finance structure so that permit fees pay for the cost of the concealed carry permitting system, rather than going into the state’s general fund.
The bill passed mostly along party lines, with many Republicans opposed to the plan.
LePage supports “constitutional carry,” which would allow concealed carry without a permit. In his veto letter, he said he would not sign any bill that limited the right to bear arms, and that any such measure should be put to referendum.
The bill’s sponsor, retired state trooper Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, said the veto “makes no sense.”
“I’m on the record as a supporter of constitutional carry,” he said. “I’m also a realist. If we’re going to have a system, it needs to be one that works. It’s got to be one that allows law enforcement to know what’s out there, that provides permit-holders with the reciprocity they deserve and keeps the fees in the system where it belongs.”
Other bills vetoed by LePage on Tuesday included:
— LD 297, An Act to Require Forest Rangers To Be Trained in Order to Allow Them to Carry Firearms. LePage said in his veto letter that while he supports arming forest rangers, the bill does not provide for adequate training or funding.
— LD 1827, An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Support Maine Small Business and Job Creation. This was one of six bond proposals approved with broad bipartisan support by lawmakers in the waning days of the session. That broad support could indicate a likelihood that LePage’s veto will be overridden by lawmakers.
The bill would ask voters to authorize a $12 million bond for small-business financial aid through the Finance Authority of Maine to fund two established programs that provide start-up and expansion capital to small businesses. In his veto letter, LePage expressed his belief that businesses “borrowing money on the backs of all Maine taxpayers is not the right way to go.”
— LD 1824, An Act to Provide Additional Authority to the State Board of Corrections. The bill also received bipartisan support for strengthening the jail system’s state-level governing board and creating new protections to keep jail budgets down. LePage said the proposed fixes in the bill are too small to correct the problems at the State Board of Corrections, which he called “a case study in how wrong Democrat experiments can go.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.