AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has issued an executive order related to four bills he says the Legislature refuses to properly fund.
Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said the situation was a campaign stunt.
LePage says he’ll use money from the Low-Cost Drugs for Maine’s Elderly Program, the Fund for a Healthy Maine and personal services accounts to fund the bills and may resort to a hiring freeze with the Department of Health and Human Services to find the funding.
Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland said LePage manufactured the situation so he could redirect money from programs he’s tried to cut in the past.
“These programs have been on Gov. LePage’s chopping block for a long time and he’s using this manufactured chaos as cover to slash their funding,” said Alfond in a written statement. “He wasn’t able to win support in the Legislature to gut these programs so he’s abusing his authority to make the cuts by executive order.”
Lawmakers have said that the bills are funded and earlier this month rejected a request from LePage that they convene the Legislature for a special session before July 1. As governor, LePage has the authority to call a special session of the Legislature, but he has not done that.
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 negotiate state worker union contracts “in good faith,” though raises he supported for state police officials are funded from the same source. During negotiations earlier this year, 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.
“We are going to do our best to mitigate the impacts of this unfunded legislation with available resources,” LePage said in a written statement. “Maine law demands that the budget be balanced.”
Eves had a terse response.
“This entire process of threatening to call an unnecessary special session at a cost of thousands of dollars to Mainers and then issuing an executive order stripping funding from programs he doesn’t like is another example of the governor creating election-year turmoil to accomplish what he couldn’t in the Legislature,” said Eves in a written statement.