Maine budget committee members voice frustration over snub by LePage agency heads

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AUGUSTA — Lawmakers on the state’s powerful budget-writing committee Tuesday repeatedly voiced disappointment and frustration that representatives of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration would not answer their questions in person.

Four departments, including the state’s largest agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, had business before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee but did not send a representative to meet with the committee Tuesday.

“For an organization with about 3,000 employees, that no one is here today, I think it is shameful,” Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, the committee’s Senate chair, said. “It indicates to me there’s hardly any willingness to work for the people of the state of Maine.”

The committee was reduced to drafting a letter via their clerk to various department heads. Several questions they wanted answers to involved a breakdown in the system that provides rides to MaineCare clients.

The committee also had questions for the Department of Transportation regarding how much borrowing the state needed to do for projects on the department’s work list. DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt did send a letter to the committee Tuesday morning with some of those details.

The committee also was hoping to hear from a representative from the Department of Administration and Financial Affairs regarding state debt and interest rates.

The committee also wanted an update from Maine Revenue Services on a closure of its offices in Houlton.

None of the agencies provided on-mic testimony, although Finance Commissioner H. Sawin Millett did meet informally with lawmakers.

Earlier in the year, LePage said he was not going to allow any of his commissioners to testify before the committee after Hill refused to let the governor address the committee during its deliberations on the state’s budget.

Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage, said the committee either had answers to its questions already or would have answers provided to them.

Bennett said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew was responsible for the largest department in the state and didn’t have time to be at the meeting. She also said the governor’s deputy chief of staff was present for most of the meeting Tuesday.

“They can be assured that they will be receiving answers to their questions,” Bennett said. “But our commissioners do have departments to run.”

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, also sent a letter to LePage on Tuesday complaining about the snub and detailing their concerns. 

“At each step along the way the Legislature has been forced to act in isolation, without cooperation from your administration,” Eves and Alfond wrote. “Today’s AFA meeting was perhaps the starkest example.”
 
In an email message late Tuesday Bennett said LePage would be meeting with Eves and Alfond early Wednesday morning to discuss the situation.

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