PORTLAND — A conservative political group launched a statewide TV ad campaign Thursday aimed at getting the Legislature to approve Gov. Paul LePage's plan to pay off the state's $484 million debt to Maine's hospitals.
The 30-second ad, paid for by Maine People Before Politics, urges residents to tell their legislators to pass the Republican governor's proposal.
LePage has been putting almost daily pressure on the majority Democrats to pass his plan to pay the debt. He's proposing to pay off the debt now using a revenue bond, which would be paid off later with anticipated revenues from a restructured, 10-year liquor contract.
In a statement, the president of the Maine People Before Politics' board of directors called LePage's hospital payoff plan "creative and brilliant."
"His plan is solid, which is why so many organizations and newspapers have endorsed it," Charlie Gaunce said. "It is time for the Legislature to act and put his plan in place."
Democrats agree hospitals should be paid and have put forth an alternative plan that would use an upfront payment from the restructured liquor contract to pay off the debt without issuing a revenue bond. Democrats say they want the state to use federal health care dollars for expanded Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act to prevent outsized medical debt in the future.
Democratic legislative leaders called the ad divisive, saying LePage is playing politics rather than working with legislators.
"So far, the governor has signed four bills and gone on two vacations" since the legislative session began, said Assistant Majority Leader Jeff McCabe. "Now he's launching a campaign 19 months before an election."
The ad starts off by taking aim at former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, blaming his administration for leaving hundreds of millions of dollars of hospital debt at the end of his term, "causing layoffs, threatening care for seniors and families."
The ad then touts LePage's proposal, calling it a commonsense plan that's supported by the state's newspapers.
Maine People Before Politics, which is registered with the state as a nonprofit, is spending $41,000 on a week's worth of ad buys at stations in Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle, Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said, citing information from the stations.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said the TV spot is nothing more than a campaign ad.
"Right now, Paul LePage is in serious jeopardy of losing his re-election bid next year, so his campaign is desperate to find an issue to try to revive his standing with Maine voters," Grant said. "This ad shows that there are few issues available to them in which the governor is on the same side as the people of Maine."
But Brent Littlefield, an adviser to Maine People Before Politics and a political adviser to the governor, said the ad's message is to put politics aside.
"The reason the hospital debt exists in the first place is people were playing politics with the budget," he said.