AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has called for a special session of the Legislature by the end of June to address four bills he said were enacted but not adequately funded by lawmakers.
Most legislative leaders were not receptive, with the most blunt response coming from Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, who said that “we will not be coming back into session.”
In a letter transmitted Friday to Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Eves, LePage said resolution of the funding question on the four bills requires immediate attention. He asked for their cooperation as opposed to calling the special session unilaterally, as he has the authority to do.
“In light of the constitutional requirement of a balanced budget, correcting these budget gimmicks constitutes an ‘extraordinary occasion’ and the Legislature should be convened,” LePage said in the letter. “I hope you’ll agree to convene prior to the end of this fiscal year to fix these bills and ask that you respond by Wednesday, June 22, as to whether you will consider making the changes outlined in this letter in a special session prior to July 1, 2016.”
Eves said the bills in question do not constitute an emergency.
“There is nothing extraordinary about Gov. LePage refusing to work with the Legislature and then creating problems that do not exist,” said Eves, who characterized LePage’s action as “election-year political theatre.”
Thibodeau said that “I believe the next appropriate step to take is for the governor to meet with legislative leadership at his earliest convenience to discuss the four bills in question.”
Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland said the bills in question are funded.
“The executive branch doesn’t have to like the way the bills are funded, but Gov. LePage is obligated to execute the laws passed by the Legislature,” Alfond said in a written statement. “That is the way the powers are separated by the Maine Constitution. I cannot see why 186 lawmakers should return to Augusta — at a cost of $43,000 per day — just because Gov. LePage doesn’t want to do his job.”
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport took a different tone.
“If the funding sources identified in these bills are no longer viable, we should work with the administration to properly fund these initiatives,” he said in a written statement.
Grant Pennoyer, executive director of the Legislative Council, said Friday evening that assuming lawmakers who live more than 100 miles from the State House will lodge in Augusta for one night, the cost to convene the Legislature would be $42,900 for the first day and $37,900 for each additional day.
Pennoyer said because of upgrades being made in the House Chamber, there could be additional costs to restore audio and “other basic functions” so the chamber could be used for a special session. After July 5, he said, the House would have to convene off-site because of carpet removal and setting up scaffolding in the chamber.
The four bills are:
— LD 1465, A Resolve to Require the Department of Health and Human Services to Conduct a Study of Ambulance Services. This bill will cost $75,000 to $100,000, according to LePage, and there is no funding source in the bill. Lawmakers argue that it can be conducted by a firm called Burns and Associates under an existing contract.
— LD 1552, An Act to Reduce Morbidity and Mortality Related to Injected Drugs. The $75,000 cost of a needle-exchange program originally was funded with general fund dollars, but the funding language was stripped before the bill’s enactment. The Legislature intended for the bill to be funded out of Maine Center for Disease Control funds.
— LD 1614, A Resolve to Provide Funding for the County Jail Operations Fund. The $2.5 million cost of this bill is funded with Medicaid funds that resulted from increased federal matching grants for health and social services. LePage argues that is an inappropriate use of Medicaid funds.
— LD 1645, An Act to Address Employee Recruitment and Retention Issues at State Mental Health Institutions. Lawmakers passed this bill over LePage’s veto and identified a salary account within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services that has nearly $28 million in it. LePage argued in his letter that he needs that money so he can negotiation state worker union contracts “in good faith,” though raises he supported for state police officials are funded from the same source. The LePage administration led lawmakers to believe there is enough money in the salary account to cover the $1 million cost of the raises, according to Eves.
LePage, as with any Maine governor, can call a special session of the Legislature on his own but has not taken that step to date, according to Adrienne Bennett, his spokeswoman.
“He does have the authority to do it by proclamation,” she said. “The governor is looking for them to come back and show they’re willing to work with him.”