Special session costs mount as accord eludes Maine lawmakers

Good morning from Augusta, where it’s getting ugly. Here’s their soundtrack.

The remaining issues that keep legislators coming back for a special session their leaders hoped to end last week are dwindling, but they are big. State borrowing has taken center stage since Gov. Paul LePage blocked or at least delayed the sale of $117 million in bonds that are needed to fund summer roadwork. While that spat over bonds approved years ago simmers, lawmakers at the State House are fighting over future ones.

A $49 million borrowing package for public universities and community colleges enjoyed a few moments in the sun before 31 House Republicans flipped their initial “yes” votes to “no” in a subsequent tally, blocking the two-thirds majority necessary for a referendum. A $105 million transportation bond proposal never even came up for a vote. Maine voters haven’t rejected a transportation bond in decades but they can’t approve what the Legislature won’t let them vote on. Meanwhile, a $30 million bond for wastewater treatment facilities sailed through the House, 124-2.

On another note, LePage signaled for the first time a way to expand Medicaid: tax the hospitals. There is no formal proposal yet and LePage’s staff isn’t talking about it publicly but it might be a non-starter for some lawmakers. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, has already signaled he would like to see a public hearing on the proposal, and Jeff Austin, a lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association, said his organization opposes the idea because Maine hospitals already pay $100 million a year in taxes.

Whether the idea comes to fruition, or at least discussion, is in question. However, an interesting note here is that early in the day LePage blasted lawmakers for “excessive 11th-hour legislative spending” and said it was his reason for refusing to sign $117 million in voter-approved bonds. Yet out of the other side of his mouth, the governor launches a major 11th-hour policy proposal on Medicaid, which has been under debate at the State House throughout his tenure as governor.

Another fight is over public campaign funding. As previously reported, a pending “errors” bill would fix a typo in a law passed last year that doesn’t allow the Maine Ethics Commission to spend any money from the Maine Clean Election Fund after July 1. All indications are that House Republicans are serious about squashing the system by scuttling the errors bill, despite the fact that 30 percent of Republican candidates for the House are signed up for it. A news conference is planned for later this morning that is purported to include Democrats, Republicans and independents calling for a fix.

The stalemate in Augusta is getting pricey. Special legislative sessions cost an estimated $42,081 for the first day in a week and $36,445 for each additional day. That means last week’s three days cost $114,971. Monday cost another $42,081 because it was the first day in a week, which is even higher than I tweeted Monday before I understood the “first day” rule. Whoops. That cost towers over what the cost would have been for extending the regular legislative session, which House Republicans blocked in May, because lawmakers aren’t paid for extension days.

There’s always time to double-check math, which in this case leads to an eye-popping sum. Including pauses for conferences at the rostrum, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and and singing or playing the national anthem, and special sentiments honoring the North Atlantic Blues Festival and Camp Postcard, among other things, the Legislature was in session for a combined 153 minutes Monday — 84 minutes for the House, 69 for the Senate. (Hey, I just do the math.)

Anyway, that equates to a cost to taxpayers of $16,502 per hour, or $275.04 per minute. Or, to put a finer point on it, $4.58 per second. Here’s your soundtrack.

Words for a November ballot question

In addition to candidates in major races, one other thing is now settled for the general election. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap announced the wording for a citizen-initiated ballot question that Mainers will decide in November:

“Do you want to create the Universal Home Care Program to provide home-based assistance to people with disabilities and senior citizens, regardless of income, funded by a new 3.8% tax on individuals and families with Maine wage and adjusted gross income above the amount subject to Social Security taxes, which is $128,400 in 2018?”

At present, that’s the only question voters will see on their state ballots in November. Bond questions could be added, but how many there will be and what they will ask voters remains in flux, because lawmakers can’t even seem to agree on things they say they agree on. See above, while listening to this soundtrack.

The ballot question results from signature gathering launched by the Maine People’s Alliance and its allies. As is required by law, Dunlap sought public input before coming up with the ballot question wording. Expect complaints from LePage — who regularly criticizes ballot question wording — and other language parsers who will claim that the wording misleads voters.

Meanwhile, a group opposing the question plans to kick off its campaign with a news conference today.

Disqualified candidate abandons legal battle

A Republican who was kicked out of his party’s U.S. Senate primary has ended his legal crusade against Maine election officials. Max Linn of Bar Harbor defied court orders when he campaigned in the Republican primary for independent U.S. Sen. Angus King’s seat after being disqualified from the race because of faulty and fraudulent signatures on his ballot access paperwork. He proceeded to circulate signs and buy advertising while launching a last-ditch legal battle in U.S. District Court.

The primary is now over, state Sen. Eric Brakey is the Republican nominee and according to a filing Monday, Linn has abandoned his lawsuit. Here’s his soundtrack.

Reading list

  • A Somerset County deputy was on the ground when his alleged killer fatally shot him, according to an affidavit. The court document released Monday indicates that Madison resident John D. Williams, who pleaded not guilty to murder, “got the jump on” Cpl. Eugene Cole during an early morning confrontation on April 25, then shot him after the deputy tripped while moving backwards. Williams allegedly told police that he “eliminated” Cole because he was mad at him for arresting his fiancee a few days earlier.
  • The tragedy of opiate addiction struck a Maine family for the second time in less than a year. Two months after David and Shelly Yankowsky spoke to 500 people about the death last year of their son, Adam, of an opioid overdose at the age of 25, their younger son, Sean, succumbed to his drug addiction. Sean Michael Yankowsky, 21, died Saturday of a drug overdose at a friend’s home in Bangor, his mother said Monday. Adam David Yankowsky died Aug. 7 at his parents’ home in Glenburn. Like many other states, Maine continues to reel from the deadly effects of opiate addiction, with 418 people dying as a result of overdoses in 2017, according to state records.

Wolverine spotted in Maine

We don’t mean the scary, giant north woods denizen that can tear you apart with its claws. We mean the guy who plays one in the X-Men movies, Hugh Jackman.

Apparently. Jackman — with his family but without his adamantium claws, which would probably set off TSA scanners and make driving difficult — showed up at Bangor International Airport on Monday. Speculation is that he’s vacationing on Mount Desert Island or somewhere else in Maine.

Besides playing a tormented superhero, Jackman also is quite the song-and-dance man. And, apparently, a Mick Jagger impersonator. Here is his soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

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.