Maine lawmakers say budget work continues without Cabinet testimony

AUGUSTA — State lawmakers on the Legislature's powerful, budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee said Tuesday that work on the state's next two-year budget would continue despite an order from Gov. Paul LePage that bars commissioners in his Cabinet from appearing before the committee.

LePage said last week he would no longer allow his top Cabinet members, including Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett, to appear before the committee.

LePage said that if the committee needed information from his administration, he would be the one to provide it to them.

The decision came after the committee's Senate chairwoman, Dawn Hill, D-York, did not allow LePage to address the committee on May 19.

LePage's communications director Peter Steele said Tuesday the governor was protecting his commissioners from being berated by the committee.

"He just doesn't think they should be beat up by the committee," Steele said.

Some Democratic leaders said LePage had issued the order blocking their testimony because the information they might present would be in disagreement with the governor's views.  

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said the move by LePage would undoubtedly slow down the committee's work.

"These are people who have an area of expertise, whether it's Marine Resources or the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife," McCabe said. He said particularly complicated budgets, such as those managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, were difficult to fully understand without information from the commissioner.

"We are going to have to make decisions with questionable information," McCabe said.

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, House chairwoman of the committee, said members often depend on commissioners for information, and now the committee would press on without that information.

Rotundo said she wasn't interested in "politicizing" the committee's work and that her intent was to move forward with a budget that would gain the unanimous support of the committee. 

"I'm not in a position to be able to say what the governor knows in terms of the workings of those departments and what he doesn't," Rotundo said.  

LePage previously had disallowed his commissioners from appearing before legislative committees, including during the creation of the last two-year budget, which was prepared while Republicans held the majority in the Legislature.

Rotundo said the committee was "focused on working on this budget, a unanimous, bipartisan budget. We are all focused, everybody on Appropriations is focused, on getting this budget out and not being distracted."

State Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, the only Republican senator on the committee and a former chairman, said the committee's work would continue and lawmakers could get the information from commissioners they needed to make informed decisions.

Flood said the last time commissioners were barred from testifying before the committee, members were still able to complete a budget. "It was a week or two that we went without their testimony and I can't remember why, but I think it was rescinded and then we had them again," Flood said.

"I'll miss the commissioners, but I believe we can meet with them privately," Flood said. Flood said Millett, the finance commissioner, attended the Republican caucus Tuesday morning, so lawmakers were still getting access to the commissioners, just not in the formal setting of a committee meeting.

Flood said he had not heard that the commissioners were being kept from testifying because they were in conflict with the Governor's Office. 

As to the potential mistreatment of commissioners by lawmakers, Flood said, "I've never berated a commissioner and I'm not going to. I love having them come before us, and if they can't for a period of time, we will make do."

Steele said LePage had not yet been invited to appear before the committee.

"I'm sure they won't ask him," Steele said.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

The crux

When Angus King in a recent meeting asked fellow Republicans on a committee if they would vote for a bill if the committee agreed to all their demands and they said they would not. The Maine legislature is facing a similar situation. How many times has the legislature passed bills with unanimous approval this year only to have Republicans change their vote after a Lepage veto. All the work they are putting into crafting a budget that is fair and has bipartisan support is probably going to face the same fate. They will work for a year to come up with something fair and sensible with bipartisan support only to have Republicans change their vote to sustain a veto. I have never seen such a spineless corrupt bunch in the Maine legislature. Their behavior defies logic.

You're right...

It's unusual for the GOP to be the spineless ones. Usually it's the Dems who don't have the backbone to stand by their principles. (And I say this as a disappointed left-leaning moderate).

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Where's the outrage???????????

Paul LePage seems to think it's OK to play games with the State. In big and small ways, we all have a stake in the operation of this State. Taxes, fees, surcharges, everything he does, in some way affects all of us.
If this were a company we all worked at, and the CEO was acting this way, he would be called up on the carpet, and shown the door. In affect, we are the "Board of directors" for the State, we just don't have the authority to secure our best interests. LePage feels he has free reign to do whatever he wants, to who ever he wants, when ever he wants. Somehow he's been given that power, we just need to figure a way to regain control of our State. What he's doing is bad for everyone, right or left of the isle.
So far, he's shut off funding to cities and towns. That means property taxes are going up, if they haven't already. He's cut funding to just about everything he can and is looking for more. How many cuts will we be able to afford. He doesn't seem to realize that his actions affect the population, if he does he just doesn't care.
I feel it's time the Legislature step in and put an end to this insanity. appoint an interim Governor who can make rational decisions and consider the consequences of his actions. In other words, run this State responsibly. Otherwise, this State is going down the toilet...

DONALD FERLAND's picture

We really need to impeach and

We really need to impeach and remove this man from office. How much more of "It's my way or the highway" do Maine people need to hear from this man. If the commissioners cannot work with the appropriations committee then why do they need to receive all of their pay. And since the governor seems to want to interfere with the state business getting done he doesn't need his pay either. They don't need health insurance either. It's time to start taking away from the governor and his commissioners and start giving to the Maine people.

PHILIP LAINE's picture

The decision came after the

The decision came after the committee's Senate Chair Dawn Hill, D-York, did not allow LePage to address the committee on Sunday, May 19.

And not one republican on the committee objected.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Senator Hill did the right

Senator Hill did the right thing. He was not scheduled to testify and that is what his commissioners are for. All the committee would have gotten out of the governor was more hot air, accusations, and exaggerations.

He's our King!

He doesn't need to "schedule" an appearance! All he needs to do is show up and all present should part the crowd and make way for him to come leave us his golden drops of wisdom. All hail the great monarch LePage!

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

A waste of skin and Maine peoples business getting done.

"despite an order from Gov. Paul LePage barring commissioners in his cabinet from appearing before the committee."

Here it is LePage working, "NOT", for getting resolutions and issues addressed to help the state of Maine...

Kick his ass out the door ASAP....

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