GOP turns up heat on hospital debt

AUGUSTA — GOP lawmakers and Republican Gov. Paul LePage are turning up the rhetoric and the political heat as they push LePage's plan to use revenue from the state's liquor business to pay back $484 million the state owes to 39 Maine hospitals.

AUGUSTA — The Legislature passed five bills Thursday that should land on Gov. Paul LePage's desk within the next few days.

LePage has vowed to veto any bills that hit his desk before lawmakers address the state's debt to its 39 hospitals.

The bills that moved from the Legislature this week include

* LD 26: "An Act to Authorize the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to Change a Fishing Season Opening Date Statewide."

* LD 32: "An Act to Expand the Types of Vaccines That May Be Administered by Pharmacists."

* LD 103: "An Act to Correct an Inconsistency in Maine's Apprenticeship Laws."

* LD 112: "An Act to Make Changes to the Educators for Maine Program."

* LD 113: "An Act to Make Changes to the Maine College Savings Program."

LePage on Friday will bring his message to Lewiston-Auburn, where he will hold a news conference at a local liquor store. He will then visit Central Maine Medical Center, part of Central Maine Healthcare, to which the state owes about $51 million.

The debt is owed for services Maine hospitals have provided under the state's MaineCare program, which is funded by state and federal Medicaid money.

On Friday, LePage will pitch his plan, which would use profits from the state's wholesale liquor business to pay the debt service on $186 million of privately backed revenue bonds, essentially a loan to the state. That money would go directly to the hospitals and force a federal match of $298 million.

Republicans and the LePage administration have insisted it's important to pay the hospitals sooner rather than later as the matching funds from the federal government are expected to decrease over time.

On Wednesday, LePage reiterated his message that he wouldn't sign any bills into law until the Legislature does something about the state's health care debt.

While several bills were on their way to the governor's desk, none had arrived as of Thursday, spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said.

The Maine Republican Party this week released a video clip from 2008 when Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said, "I think we might have to stop paying the hospitals . . ." Alfond, now the Senate president, was speaking about an $800 million state budget shortfall lawmakers were dealing with at the time.

In a radio interview with WGAN on Wednesday, Maine Republican Party Chairman Rich Cebra said the video shows Democrats have never been serious about paying off the state's debt.

"This video is just one more piece of evidence that Maine's Democratic leadership has never been serious about paying off the hospital debt," said Cebra, a former state representative from Naples. "This video is all the explanation the people of Maine need to see how we got to this point. Is it any surprise that the Democratic leadership is trying to avoid paying the hospitals now?"

Leaders in the Democratic majority continued to insist that they want to pay off the state's hospitals.

On Thursday, they renewed their call for LePage to release more than $100 million in general obligation bonds that Maine voters approved in the fall of 2011. The release of those bonds, essentially loans to the state, would trigger $296 million in matching funds from the federal government.

The bonds would be used for a variety of projects around the state, including port expansion, development to airport improvements and upgrades for many of the state's ailing roads and bridges.

LePage has said he would not authorize the bonds until lawmakers agree on a plan to pay off the hospital debt.

"The governor has essentially given the Legislature and the people of Maine a ransom note: 'Pass my liquor bill, and I will release the bonds,'" said Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond. He said LePage and other Republicans in the Legislature have said the bonds would create jobs, but they continue to blame Democrats for the delay of the release.

"They admit the bonds will create economic opportunity for the state, put people back to work, and they admit these jobs that will be triggered as a result of releasing the bonds will be good for our economy," Goodall said. "But what they are not telling you is that those bonds could be released today; in fact, the last round of bonds could have been released 120 days ago."

Republicans disagreed and said that until the state settles its outstanding and massive debt with its hospitals, it risks jeopardizing its bond rating, which essentially determines how much the state pays in interest when it borrows.

"The governor's plan is a comprehensive approach that not only pays off the hospital debt and gets it off the books, but it allows us to take on more debt in the form of bonds," Bennett said. 

Bennett said LePage's plan also directs some of the liquor profits to clean water projects, transportation projects and the state's reserve accounts, which are down to $4 million. "He's looking for a better deal," Bennett said.

Republican leaders in the Legislature also responded to Democrats on Thursday.

"We’ve been here before; the governor has already said that he’ll issue these bonds, but we must pay our bills before taking on new debt," said House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport. 

Assistant House Minority Leader Alexander Willette, R-Mapleton, said if the governor is holding the bonds hostage, then Democrats are holding the payments to hospitals hostage.

"The difference is, Republicans want a trade-off and the Democrats don’t," Willette said. "We want to pay the hospitals and issue the bonds."

LePage is expected to speak to the media about his plan during a news conference at 9 a.m. Friday at Roopers Beverage and Redemption on Main Street in Auburn.

After the conference, the governor will visit CMMC to tour the facility and meet with hospital staff and patients.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

Troy R. Bennett/Bangor Daily News

Gov. Paul LePage

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Comments

FRANK EARLEY's picture

If anything, LePage is guilty of......

If anything, a lot of people can agree on one thing. Paul LePage is guilty of a serious lack of "EMPATHY". Maybe he could spell the word off the top of his head, but defining it might be a little difficult for the man. Actually it's definition may elude a good number of these Republican wing-nuts.
We need to pay off the debt to hospitals. That's a given. What we don't need is an idiot in the Governors seat, threatening the very people who pay his salary. It seems like this nut, gets off on seeing how far he can torment the little people. What normal, sane, adult, would ever consider, denying help and services to the people who need it the most. This new "Property Tax Hike" of his does nothing but hurt the less fortunate. No heating assistance available, no general assistance available. I have a friend, she lives month to month, her whole life is paying her bills, nothing else. She suffers from MS. By the time she finishes paying most of her bills every month that's it, nothing left. She went to her town for heating assistance, she went to the State for help, hell I think she even tried Joe Kennedy. Some how she has been able to get 125 gallons so far for the winter. Why? because the State funding has been cut so hard, towns and organizations have nothing to give.
That's all fine and dandy, the right wing hate entitlements. They want to do away with Social Security, Medicare, and most of all MainCare. They have absolutely no problem denying essential help to the poor, to pay down the debt. They can justify the suffering with the "Hard Decision" argument. They can somehow block out what these people have to go through day to day. It doesn't bother them.
That my friend is the definition of "Lack of Empathy", The Republicans simply could care less........

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Why don't YOU help your

Why don't YOU help your friend instead of making it the government's responsibility.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I do, but....

I help my friends all the time, I have no problem with it. I've bought more oil this year than anyone else I know, with gas heat. I even made a mortgage payment for a relative recently, The problem I do have is that if a person gets sick, they shouldn't have to beg for help. They are after all taxpayers, and have been for a lot of years. Now is not the time for the Government to ignore them. Something the GOP has a hard time understanding, and it's whats going to keep them in the crapper, until they get with the program. There is more to life than having money. Paying the bills is very heart warming, but government needs to take care of the people first.
If taking care of all the citizens that live in this country isn't the Governments job, what exactly is the purpose of paying taxes. Has this become the land of, survival of the fittest? Whenever I hear people who feel that it's not the government's obligation to take care of it's people, I say this , and I know the "Pirate" is sick of hearing this. I would love for these people to have the experience of becoming totally unable to work, preferably at a relatively young age. Experience the challenge of living on next to nothing while going through the long process of proving your disability. When you finally do get some resolution in your favor, you can kiss that hundred thousand dollar salary good by. Now your trying to survive on about twenty thousand a year, if your lucky. Of course by now your a few months behind on the rent and thank God it's winter because the light bill is late to. On top of everything else, you still have, I would assume, a serious medical issue to deal with. In my case I had to travel back and fourth to Boston sometimes twice a week. The health insurance is gone, and those prescriptions aren't exactly free. The co-pays have changed to you-pays. that can get very expensive. This is just the beginning.
It's a small taste of what people go through every day. Very few people I've seen prepare for that. Those are the people that you don't feel should be the Government responsibility. It's real easy to stand up there at the podium, and pull a Paul Ryan, ignore the sick and elderly. Their not productive enough to bother with. It may even be easy to put in the back of your mind and forget about them. The truth is, only when this happens to you, and it could happen tomorrow, only then, will you truly know what desperation and fear are all about. When you arrive at rock bottom, you will realize, why we need to help the people. Paying bills will have a whole new meaning after that, trust me........

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Good post....I don't agree

Good post....I don't agree with you on some points, but I do understand what you're saying. And, I commend you for the help you give your friends and relatives. That's what it's about; friends, relatives and neighbors helping friends, relatives and neighbors; not the government. However, there have to be safety nets of some sort to keep helpless people from falling into the abyss.

Jane Ryerson's picture

Lepage and hospital debt

How Ironic, the democrats in Washington and the Democrats in Maine are all the same. Never mind being responsible and paying your bills, just release the bonds that were voted on so the taxpayers can pay on them also. You have to wonder where responsibility is in the country today. Governor LePage is absolutely correct in holding the bonds and paying the hospitals. It is called doing the right thing.

Tony Capola's picture

Pay the bill

Is it asking too much for the State to pay its bills in a timely manner?
Our previous Governor did us no favor by leaving this element of his "MaineCare" fiasco unresolved.
This is not an “Us vs. Them” issue. The obligation belongs to ALL of us. We as individuals cannot simply ignore our responsibilities and the State of Maine is under no less a constraint.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

An answer to yor qustion....

Yes it is.....

John Clement's picture

So, it's being a bully to

So, it's being a bully to want people to pay their bills and be responsible?
Ooh, he's so mean to expect people to act like adults. There is no such thing as a free lunch, the bill has to be paid somehow and it's either paid now with tough choices or tomorrow with even tougher choices. It is made even worse if you want to pay it off with borrowed money. The world has changed and it looks like politicians (mostly democrats) haven't figured it out yet. The country is broke and so is the State of Maine. Realizing and accepting you have a problem is the first step to changing your addictive behavior.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Nothing happens

I wonder if "Nothing Happens" will be his new campaign slogan. It sure is an apt description of his tenure so far. Lots of hot air but nothing moves. The Democrats overwhelmingly won the last election. If they want to win more elections they need to remember there was a reason Maine people put them back in. Stand up to the bully and put Maine people first.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You did not complete the last

You did not complete the last sentence. It should have read, "Stand up to the bully and put Maine people first; don't pay your bills".

Jane Ryerson's picture

reply to nothing happens

It's not about being a bully, it is about being responsible and paying your bills. A simple concept the democrats don't understand because they think the people should pay for everything and everyone.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

Claire if

Claire if you worked for someone and and their biggest customer stopped paying their bills what would happen? They would have to shut down, go out of business, you would be unemployed. You and your cronies had forty years to create this mess. Stop whinnng and pay the bill.

Bob Stone's picture

77% of people polled

...agree that paying the hospitals off should be a priority. (WABI -TV website, today). 23% want to join in with the Democrats, like Rotundo, Craven, Carey and their ilk, and remain, yes remain, "deadbeats." Common scofflaws.

LePage has done plenty in his first term. All with a media working almost full time against him...Democrat scofflaws who are fighting him at every turn...and more than a few weak kneed Republican legislators who are lost in the ozone of the Capitol dome. He cut income taxes for thousands of working Maine families, many with young CHILDREN. He reduced the cost of the Maine pension system for Maine taxpayers by over a billion dollars. Apparently, the Democrats want to get a greater share of the tax paying Mainers' wallets and because LePage is standing between the Democrats and the taxpayer, he is a "bully."

Be careful when retired union folk call the Governor names. Look behind the curtain.

Thomas Hamilton's picture

Pay your bills

How can the state get away with not paying the medicare bills? They are forcing the hospitals, doctors and other hearth-care providers to give "free" charity care to their medicare patients. Medicaid hardly pays the full bill anyway. This is so unfair to those who provide the service and those who pay their bills on time.

Noel Foss's picture

No Kidding.

If they'd stop whining about how unfair the governor's being and actually SOLVE the problem they'd come up with a plan in no time. Then they could get their loans they're clamoring for.

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