LePage tells lawmakers that municipal leaders prey on elderly Mainers

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage showed up to a legislative committee hearing to advocate for a bill he says will help Maine’s senior citizens avoid foreclosures on their homes because of tax liens.

The Republican governor’s interactions with lawmakers have been rare during his time in office — and unpredictable. On Tuesday, we learned from Twitter that the governor had shown up at the Legislature’s Taxation Committee to champion his bill to implement a process for municipalities to use before foreclosing on property owned by someone 65 years or older because of a tax lien. The bill, which was sponsored on behalf of LePage by Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, also includes provisions financially favoring homeowners if their property does end up in foreclosure.

LePage said his system could be accomplished without any funding and should be the responsibility of elected officials. The governor has been publicly touting the idea of protecting indebted elderly Mainers from losing their homes since at least 2017, when he proposed the bill after a report about an elderly couple in Albion who lost their home over $4,000 in back taxes. LePage said he will continue to publicize the issue, including in his State of the State address next Tuesday.

The bill is not without opponents. The Maine Municipal Association’s 70-member Legislative Policy Committee is “strongly opposed” to the proposal because it would be “more complicated and administratively burdensome” than the current 18-month process, which the association deems “appropriate and fair.” The Maine Mayors’ Coalition also testified against the bill on the grounds that cities are already going to lengths to avoid foreclosures.

The governor was heavy on criticism of those groups for their opposition, saying they were “taking advantage of the elderly” because, in the case of the MMA, the organization is partially supported by fees from municipal property taxes. That caused Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, to come to their defense, calling it “very strong language to accuse folks … who dedicate their lives to public service.”

“I find it unconscionable,” retorted LePage. “I don’t begrudge nonprofits but I begrudge taking advantage of the most vulnerable people in our society and that’s our elderly.”

Democrats took their shots at LePage. Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, questioned why the governor doesn’t support funding for a reverse mortgage bill approved but not funded by the Legislature last year, to which LePage responded that his bill could be accomplished at the municipal level without additional funding. Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, asked why LePage refuses to release $15 million in bonds for senior citizen housing that were approved by 69 percent of voters in a 2015 referendum.

LePage has cited various reasons for his refusal to issue the bonds, which were a core focus for former House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, arguably LePage’s biggest political foe. LePage first said he wanted the housing to include a telehealth system but more recently has complained that he opposes the bond structure because it would “make an individual a millionaire overnight” without protections on the taxpayer money. That argument has been refuted by lawmakers and the Maine State Housing Authority.  

“As soon as you fix it, sir, I will release it,” LePage told Chenette.

Meanwhile, his anti-foreclosure bill remains tabled in the Legislature’s Taxation Committee. Here’s the seniors’ soundtrack.

Lawmakers in Maine, DC strengthen sexual harassment rules

Maine lawmakers will have to attend harassment prevention training annually. The rule change from Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, will make lawmakers attend training sessions that have been optional. It passed unanimously in the Senate last week and only 24 Republicans voted against it in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

And the U.S. House of Representatives passed changes, too. The House easily passed two tweaks aimed at streamlining the reporting process in cases of sexual harassment in Congress, adding protections for employees and holding members accountable for paying settlements resulting from their conduct. CNN reports that there are concerns that the rules will make it more difficult for victims to sue. Maine’s representatives, Democrat Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Republican Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District, are co-sponsoring several other pieces of anti-harassment legislation between them.

Today in A-town

It’s going to snow and legislative activities are postponed for the afternoon, though morning hearings will go on as scheduled. Here is today’s State House soundtrack.

Correction: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said all legislative activities were canceled today. Only afternoon activities have been canceled.

Reading list

  • Central Maine Power told lawmakers on Tuesday that reports that its smart meter system crashed during the October wind storm were inaccurate. CMP Vice President Eric Stinneford told a legislative committee that a company spokesman’s statement that the system had stuttered was “unfortunate and uninformed.” He said the system was at least 50 percent operational through the power outage, which for some Mainers lasted more than a week.
  • Recreational marijuana already seems to be affecting medical sales and legislators may overhaul the latter program. Last year, the number of medical patients dropped by 18 percent after it became legal to grow your own marijuana in Maine. Now, Maine Public reports that the Legislature is considering allowing caregivers to grow more plants and serve more patients, though they would also be hit with testing and inspection requirements that don’t exist now.
  • Officials in Belfast agreed to chip in $240,000 to bring a huge salmon farm to Maine. European firm Nordic Aquafarms announced it will spend $150 million initially and up to $500 million over the longer term to construct a land-based aquaculture site. Much of the local spending will help build the water district infrastructure the project requires.

Maybe I can blame it on the cold meds

Rex Carlin of the Vote 2018 podcast invited me to chat about Maine’s electoral landscape. You can listen to it here.

It offers telling evidence for why I work for a digital news organization, not radio. I hate the sound of my recorded voice. I much prefer the sound of the voices in my head.

How many times did I say “um?” Don’t they have a cough kill button? Should I have waited until I could breathe through my nose so listeners do not have to hear me suck in air every other sentence?

Take it apart, dear Daily Brief readers. Here is my soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.