LePage: Medicaid expansion would ‘kill’ Maine

Gov. Paul LePage has turned his attention squarely at defeating the Medicaid expansion referendum on this November’s ballot, claiming again that broadening eligibility for the government-run program would drive the state into backbreaking debt.

LePage’s ardent opposition to Medicaid expansion is nothing new. He has vetoed bids to do so six times during his tenure, making Maine one of the minority of states that have not expanded the program under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Among those provisions is that the federal government would initially fund at least 90 percent of the cost of expansion, but LePage says that’s a fallacy.

“It’s a boondoggle and it’s going to kill this state,” said LePage during a radio interview Tuesday morning on WVOM. “Within two years we’re going to be right back to where we were in 2010.”

When LePage took office in 2011, one of his first projects was paying off hundreds of millions of dollars of accrued Medicaid debt to Maine hospitals. Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, LePage’s predecessor, had been paying down the debt for years but those efforts failed to keep up with the burgeoning state obligation to hospitals. LePage finished the job with a revenue bond supported by the state liquor contract.

Throughout his tenure, LePage has opposed a number of ballot initiatives both before they went to a vote, then continued to slam them after Maine voters approved them. He will undoubtedly be at the tip of the spear during the next three months among opponents to the Medicaid expansion referendum, which proponents say would extend health care coverage to at least 70,000 Mainers. It would extend the program to qualified Mainers 65 years old or younger whose income is equal to or less than 133 percent of the federal poverty rate.

Concurrently, he continues to attack U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, claiming that their recent votes against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act constitute endorsements of Medicaid expansion and uncontrolled government health care spending..

“We are fixing our problems in Maine but to go back to the past is really, really bad,” said LePage.

Collecting the more than 61,000 necessary signatures to force the Medicaid expansion referendum was organized by Maine Equal Justice Partners. The organization gathered virtually all of the signatures it needed on Election Day in November 2016, when volunteers fanned out to polling locations across the state.

The wording of the Medicaid expansion referendum question is still in the draft stages and public comment on that issue is being accepted through Sept. 1. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap will host a drawing on Wednesday to decide the order of referendum questions on the November 2017 ballot.

On another topic, LePage was asked about the tentative labor contract agreement struck recently between the state and the Maine State Employees Association. Though the deal still needs to be ratified, the two-year contract would provide 6 percent raises to roughly 9,500 executive branch employees in exchange for the elimination of agency fees, which all workers now must pay to the union whether or not they are members.

As first reported Monday in the Bangor Daily News, the union is bound to represent non-union workers in negotiations and grievances. Union leaders have long argued that agency fees compensate for that representation.

LePage framed the negotiated deal as a victory but said he doubts the rest of Maine will become a “right to work” state anytime soon.

“I think it’s an unconstitutional act,” said LePage of agency fees. “To have to pay extortion money to have a job is really bad. It’s not the American way. … I’m trying to buy my way out of it.”

MSEA told the BDN that agency fee payers make up a minority of the workers represented by the union and that it will remain strong without that revenue, but officials with the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Workers, whose negotiators chose a 1 percent raise over the same two-year period and to maintain agency fees, said losing the revenue would hinder its ability to represent workers.

Members of both unions must vote whether to accept their respective deals by the end of this month. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • LePage says the white supremacist violence in Virginia is Virginia’s problem. Until this morning, LePage was the only New England governor who had not spoken publicly about the white supremacist protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Asked about the incidents, which killed one person and injured dozens, Tuesday morning on WVOM, LePage said “my heart goes out to the families of the injured. I feel it’s a horrific act. It’s an issue that happened in Virginia and I think Virginia authorities should be dealing with it. I just hope it never happens in Maine again because it happened here in 1922.” As reported in Monday’s Daily Brief, the Maine KKK was at the height of its power in the early 1920s. Meanwhile, Maine Republican Party Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas said in a written statement “there is no room for this type of hatred and racism in Maine.” — Christopher Cousins
  • The Maine Legislature’s panel overseeing marijuana legalization will review several consensus items to be included in their sweeping regulatory bill today. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee is set for a long Tuesday meeting where an agenda says they’ll hold a final review of consensus items in their bill to regulate Maine’s new recreational marijuana market. Some of those items include a 20 percent tax on retail marijuana and scrapping a statewide cap on cultivation in the voter-approved ballot question.  — Michael Shepherd
  • King is visiting York County today to discuss senior citizen issues. The independent senator will tour the Trafton Senior Center in Sanford and then host a discussion with local officials and senior citizen housing contractors to seek strategies to help seniors age in their own homes and communities. That’s at 1:45 p.m. King will also meet with emergency response officials later in the afternoon to discuss federal programs and fund law enforcement. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

You can’t spend all game in jail in Mexicopoly

The Sun Journal had an item last week about a bicentennial fundraising effort in the town of Mexico where they’re selling copies of “Mexicopoly,” a Monopoly replica made specially for the town and featuring local businesses.

I’d be happier about this if I hadn’t played the most frustrating game of Monopoly last night, where I went to jail five times in the first 12 turns and promptly flamed out of the game when I hit someone’s hotel with few assets to my name.

At least in Mexicopoly, they send you to court, which makes more sense. Monopoly seems rather extrajudicial to me, especially when I lose. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Programming note

The Daily Brief will continue its summer schedule by taking Wednesday off. We’ll be back on Thursday.

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.