Gov. Paul LePage is leaving office this year with a bang, sponsoring more bills in the 128th Legislature than at any time in his tenure — but that doesn’t mean his success is increasing as his administration succumbs to term limits.
Since the beginning of the 128th Legislature in December 2016, LePage has sponsored 87 bills, but only 21 of them have made it into law so far — including three that he sponsored but then wouldn’t sign, allowing them into law on their own.
Maine governors can propose new bills any time the Legislature is in session, and LePage has done so several times in recent weeks, with several of those proposals still in the hands of the Legislature. So while his numbers might improve slightly, it’s not likely with House Democrats holding their majority caucus firmly against the governor in an election year.
Here are the overall numbers:
— LePage has sponsored 267 bills while in office, of which 113 made it into law with (100) or without (13) his signature.
— In 2014, LePage vetoed one of his own bills, which originally sought to bar the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash outside of Maine but which the Legislature turned into a Department of Health and Human Services study of the issue.
All told, about 42 percent of LePage’s bills are in law. That’s arguably not a terrible percentage given that Democrats have held majorities in one or both chambers of the Legislature for six of LePage’s 7.5 years in office, which afforded them the power to block any piece of legislation they didn’t agree with. However, it doesn’t look good when compared to the previous governor, Democrat John Baldacci, who had Democratic majorities throughout his tenure. Baldacci signed 84 percent of his 212 bill proposals into law.
LePage enjoyed his greatest success, percentage-wise, in 2011 and 2012, when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. However, with just 45 bills, that session saw fewer proposals from LePage than any other session.
Thirty-seven of those bills went into law, which include some of what the governor considers his biggest accomplishments: a state budget bill that slashed the income tax rate, one of several bills he’s advanced to fight domestic violence and a bill outlawing bath salts, the abuse of which were a major public health problem at the time.
In 2012 and 2013, LePage signed into law only 21 of the 54 bills he proposed, including a bill to protect information on concealed handgun permits from Freedom of Access Act requests and what he touts as his greatest accomplishment, a bill that paid off Medicaid debt to hospitals with proceeds from a new state liquor sales contract.
In 2014 and 2015, which was the most contentious and controversial time between LePage and the Legislature, the governor put forward 81 bills, of which 30 made it into law. They included a major revenue bond bill to renovate and expand the Maine Correctional Center in South Windham, a bill that sought to block the federal government from establishing a national monument in Maine (which ultimately happened anyway), a bill that seriously curtailed the length and strength of opioid prescriptions in Maine, a bill that allowed new measures for evaluating teachers and principals, and a bill to add money to Maine’s rainy day fund.
Oh, and let’s not forget LePage’s successful proposal to name the lobster Maine’s official crustacean.
LePage’s spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, said part of the reason for LePage’s relatively low success rate is that the Legislature is too focused on partisanship and “passing useless legislation that they think will help them in the next election.”
Rabinowitz faulted the Legislature for blocking some of LePage’s bills from being vetted by committees, “where the merits of his policies could be discussed in an open forum.”
Among the higher-profile LePage proposals defeated by the Legislature are a number of bills aimed at limiting and curtailing social service programs and repeated attempts by the governor to abolish the requirement that people pay union dues as a condition of employment — which LePage has said was one of his biggest failures as governor.
Of course, the fate of a governor’s bills is only one measure of his success or failure. Through public pressure and unbending support from House Republicans, LePage has thwarted a citizen-initiated 3 percent surtax to support Maine schools, blunted the effects of a minimum wage increase on tipped workers, fended off multiple attempts at expanding Medicaid coverage and blocked the implementation of a sales and regulation structure for recreational marijuana use.
When and if the Legislature returns this year to consider bills, LePage will undoubtedly be in the middle of the conversation again. He is calling for conformity with federal tax code changes and is determined to slow or curtail scheduled increases in the minimum wage.
Despite being a lame-duck governor with little chance of forwarding legislation that will garner any support from Democrats, LePage and his Republican allies in the House have leverage in the form of dozens of bipartisan bills that have not been funded — despite a large revenue surplus — and an education funding bill that is essential to continue to flow of state subsidies to public schools.
As the clock wound toward the end of final statutory legislative day on April 18, House Democrats made a show of indefinitely tabling several late-session LePage proposals, which angered Republicans and contributed to the current impasse. The next battle is brewing for an expected special session later this year, when LePage is sure to wield his influence — and not just by proposing new bills.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.