AUGUSTA — A special legislative session that Gov. Paul LePage has broached would focus on more than $150 million the state owes its hospitals for Medicaid debts, a spokesman for Maine hospitals said Friday as prospects for a fall session remained hazy at best.
Maine Hospital Association President Steven Michaud told the Bangor Daily News that his group and the governor's office have been discussing the issue, but Michaud said he hasn't seen any proposals. Of the roughly $460 million owed to the hospitals, the states would have to come up with one-third of the money while the federal government would pay the remainder.
Messages left with Michaud and LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
LePage first mentioned the possibility of a special session while speaking at a Republican fundraiser Wednesday night, without revealing the topic.
But the plan came under question Friday after a conversation between the Republican governor and the House Democratic leader.
Democrats say the governor backed away from his plan, but the governor's office doesn't remember it that way.
Following a Friday morning phone conversation between the governor and the House Democratic leader, Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the Democrats issued a statement saying LePage "indicated to her that he would not be calling the Legislature back in for a special session. He would wait until January to propose his idea."
The statement went on to say that the governor did not disclose the topic of the session during the conversation.
"Cain was relieved to hear that the governor had backed away from his secret plan," the statement said.
The governor's office, however, had a different take on the exchange between the two.
"My understanding is it was a private conversation between the governor and Rep. Cain, and to see that Rep. Cain has gone to the media less than an hour later is disappointing," spokeswoman Bennett aid.
She added that her understanding, based on conversations with the governor, is that "he is keeping all of his options on the table."
LePage's mention of a special session during the Bangor fundraiser took legislative leaders by surprise. In a recording of his comments accompanying a blog, LePage said he has a plan to call lawmakers into special session but he couldn't reveal the proposal because the attorney general is reviewing it. He also indicated the subject would be unpopular with Democrats.
The Attorney General's Office, responding to a Freedom of Access request from The Associated Press, said it has no documents relating to the matter. The governor's office had not responded to the AP's request by Friday afternoon.
LePage's comments prompted Cain to accuse him of making "partisan political threats" and being too secretive about his plans.
Cain said she was pleased to learn that "taxpayer dollars would not be used for potential political gain prior to the election, as was implied by the governor's initial comments at the GOP fundraiser in Bangor."
While prospects of a special session being called are now in question, the state Senate and several committees will return to Augusta in early September to take up around 80 LePage nominations. The governor has virtual free rein to call a special session, but there is no guarantee lawmakers — especially in a contentious election year — have to pass anything.
Two Cabinet-level posts, several board positions for state college and university systems and dozens of others will be reviewed by legislative committees Sept. 4-5 before the Senate comes in Sept. 6 to vote on confirmations to state departments, boards, commissions and judicial benches.
Among LePage's more prominent nominees are Col. James Campbell of Old Town as commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, and Jeanne Paquette of North Yarmouth as commissioner of the Labor Department. Campbell would succeed the Maj. Gen. John "Bill" Libby, who retired earlier this year. Labor Commissioner Robert Weinglass is also retiring.