All Mainers should stand a bit taller today knowing we have finally paid off some big debts we have been lugging around for a long time.
Gov. Paul LePage visited Central Maine Medical Center on Wednesday to deliver an oversized Publishers Clearing House-style check for $43.4 million.
There should be no doubt that the governor said he was going to do this, and he now has. Mission accomplished. Campaign promise made and kept.
In total, Maine paid back 39 hospitals $490 million for MaineCare services that had accrued since the mid-2000s.
Maine will pay back $183 million, which will trigger $307 million in federal matching money for those hospitals.
It's embarrassing that we ever got into the position of owing this much money, despite a state Constitution that technically forbids the state from taking on operating debt.
No private borrower would have ever accepted such lousy terms, in essence: Maybe we'll pay you. Some day. When we get around to it. Oh, and no interest offered.
The Legislature had been nibbling away at the debt for several years, but the actual repayment would have taken many more years.
Full repayment was the right thing to do, and Gov. Paul LePage made it happen.
Good on him.
But let's not be naive
Now that we have given credit where credit is due, this much must also be said:
Somewhere in the past year or so, the governor opened a drawer in his desk and found a considerable inheritance.
The state's once-a-decade bonanza was about to hit, and on his watch. The previous liquor-sales contract would expire in a few years and a lot more money would suddenly become available.
Gov. John Baldacci got moderate advantage about a decade ago by essentially selling the state's liquor operations to a Wall Street firm for a one-time payout and a slice of future revenue growth.
Gov. LePage has, we believe, made better use of the opportunity and structured a deal that will guarantee Maine more revenue over the next decade, plus allow for paying back the hospitals.
Good work, but the availability of this money at this moment was pretty much a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Beyond that, a couple of gripes:
St. Mary's Medical Center was owed $23.7 million that will now be paid. Yet the governor had no big check for that hospital.
St. Mary's sent a person to Augusta to pick up their check.
The governor could have made this a joint ceremony in Lewiston and made a bigger splash for himself.
What's the grudge?
Just a wild guess here, but St. Mary's CEO Lee Myles confronted the Big Guy during a public hearing over the governor's proposed Medicaid cuts in January of 2012.
Myles attended a public hearing in Lewiston and, among other things, told the governor that cutting Medicaid "isn't just a fiscal issue. It's a moral issue."
That was a stand-up moment for Myles, and demonstrated how St. Mary's has maintained the values of the nuns who started the first hospital here, largely to meet the needs of poor immigrants, back 1888.
But that awkward moment may also explain why CMMC has been the governor's go-to-hospital for public presentations ever since.
Speaking of awkward . . .
The governor had said this about the hospital repayment last week: "I don't care who did it, just that it gets done. And frankly, if the Democrats want to take credit, go right ahead, fine with me."
Yes. Yes. Got it, Guv.
But as a photo was about to be taken Wednesday of the check-passing moment, a member of the governor's entourage noticed state Rep. Peggy Rotundo in the background of the photo talking to CMMC workers. The aide quietly expressed concern that Rotundo might accidentally appear in the photo.
The political crisis was averted when Rotundo naturally worked her way out of the photo, presumably before they would have . . .
Well, you saw what happened to the goofy Uncle Sam protester with the big fake check.
The final photo was picture perfect — no Democratic legislators in sight.
This moment was, to be sure, all about Paul LePage taking full credit.