LePage plays politics with threat to bring Legislature back for special session

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re still digging out from Gov. Paul LePage’s town hall meeting on Wednesday in Bangor.

There, he admitted being wrong on his debunked story about a Portland high school student overdosing on heroin. But he also said he was considering calling the Legislature back into session to fund raises for state psychiatric workers because lawmakers “didn’t give me the money.”

First off, that’s curious: We were under the impression that $944,000 in raises for workers at state hospitals in Augusta and Bangor were finalized after lawmakers overrode a LePage veto in April, but we’re checking the availability of that funding with his budget department.

But also, this isn’t the first time that LePage has raised the possibility of a special session. In 2012, he was reportedly mulling one. In 2013, he asked legislators to return to vote on a bond package. In 2014, he wanted them to come back to pass welfare reform, anti-drug and nursing home funding bills.

However, he has never called one, even though Maine law allows him to bring the Legislature back for “extraordinary occasions.” There have been 26 special sessions since 1960, with all but three called by governors. It’s unclear exactly what an “extraordinary occasion” is.

While she was out of office in 2012, the current Attorney General Janet Mills, told the Bangor Daily News that “it seems to me like it would have to be something pretty serious, like a time of war, a drought or some kind of state emergency.”

LePage’s spokespeople didn’t respond to inquiries about the special session on Thursday, though his budget office was gathering details on the workers raises.

But history tells us that the governor may be using this as a political bargaining chip against Democrats. We’re not sure whether the problem he has raised is, indeed, a problem. Like sands through the hourglass, so are these days in Maine politics. — Michael Shepherd

Report: Mainers must make $17 per hour to afford rent

A report released this week says Mainers must make $17 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, concluding that housing is “out of reach” or unaffordable for millions of Americans.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition placed Maine in the middle of the national rankings, with the 25th highest housing wage. That was the lowest in New England.

But that belies major affordability issues here: Renters’ average hourly wage in Maine is only $10.36, meaning that housing often eats up more than 30 percent of income — the threshold that experts consider unaffordable.

The housing wage is much higher than the state average in two areas: York, Kittery and South Berwick at $23 and Portland at $21.33.

The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, a group of housing industry interests and advocates, has been calling on LePage to issue $15 million in housing bonds that were approved by voters in November and would be matched by $22.6 million in private and other funds to build 225 units of affordable senior housing across the state.

The governor has said he wants the Legislature to rework the bond and put it back before voters in another election, but advocates have said the bond shouldn’t wait.

“We need leaders at the local, state and federal levels to work together to find solutions, especially for vulnerable seniors and low-wage workers,” said Greg Payne, the director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, in a statement.

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • “Is a woman claiming you are the father of her baby and you are convinced it isn’t you?” That’s very flattering, but no. However, if this applies to you, a “daytime court show” may fly you to Atlanta for a free paternity test — ostensibly if you’re fine airing this magic moment on TV. Here’s the obvious soundtrack for this situation.
  • This is the best ad for a free panini maker that you’ll ever see. The owner says it works well, but that their household isn’t made up of “panini people.” But you could use it for quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches or other stuff: “Hell – once it’s yours, you can do whatever you want with it. (As long as you take safety into consideration, of course, and everyone involved is a consenting adult.)” — Michael Shepherd

Programming note

The Daily Brief will be off on Monday as we observe Memorial Day. It’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday. You’ll be in the capable hands of Chris Cousins for the week, since I’m off and headed to New York City. I’ll take a picture of Donald Trump if we run into each other. — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.