AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee voted unanimously late Thursday to kill a pair of bills offered by Republican Gov. Paul LePage in the final days of the 126th legislative session.

The decision came after the committee received word from LePage — just as it was preparing to move the measures to the full Legislature — that he would veto the bills if lawmakers passed them, as amended.

One of the bills sought to move about $5 million from an account meant to improve health in Maine communities to help struggling nursing homes.

The other measure sought to add 10 agents to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, two drug court judges and two drug crime prosecutors to the Maine Attorney General’s office.

LePage had introduced the bills two days earlier, and lawmakers said that while they worked for at least five hours on the measure, they were unable to reach compromises among majority Democrats, minority Republicans and LePage.

Lawmakers in both parties blamed their rivals for failing to compromise, but some said the late introduction of the bills did not allow them time to work through the legislation in a meaningful way.

“It’s become abundantly clear what happens when we get bills at the last minute and we don’t have time to work them,” state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said. “It’s been very frustrating for us today to have these two bills come in at the last minute and we have not had the time to do what we normally do, and that is to work them and come out with unanimous bipartisan reports.”

Rotundo said Republican and Democratic leaders asked the committee to vote both bills down. The decision came after lawmakers spent much of the day taking override votes on more than 40 LePage vetoes of other bills that had been passed by the Legislature during the session, which began in January.

Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, the lead Senate Republican on the budget-writing committee, quipped that at least the committee was able to maintain its tradition of unanimous votes.

“Folks, these are strange things to happen on the last day of session,” Flood said. “The whole building is waiting for us to get our work done, and it’s kind of tragic it’s come to this.”

In a news release issued later, Republican Senate leaders said Democrats were “putting politics over Maine’s elderly residents” and “quashed an effort to provide critical funding to Maine nursing homes, some of which are in imminent danger of closing.”

While Republicans wanted to use $5 million from the state’s Tobacco Settlement Fund, which has money from a multi-state lawsuit settlement with big tobacco, Democrats suggested using $2 million from the state’s General Fund balance.

“This is truly a missed opportunity for our elderly,” state Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, said in a prepared statement. “The pet projects the Democrats wanted to spend the $5 million on are already adequately funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. But the Democrats want to dump more money into them when those funds could be used to meet a critical need for our nursing homes. That’s been the most baffling part of this process.”

In a prepared statement issued Friday, LePage said the Appropriations Committee had failed to fund the bills and he vowed to find the revenue for nursing homes.

“The Legislature failed the Maine people, but the executive branch is now working to find every discretionary dollar we have available to fund two nursing homes that are on the verge of closing by July 1,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “We will do whatever we can to find up to $3.5 million to save these nursing homes. The Legislature went home without doing its job, but I will keep doing mine. We must not fail our elderly.”

On the drug crimes bill, he said Democrats failed to recognize that an epidemic was “sweeping through” the state.

“While the drug problem in Maine is growing every day, the Appropriations Committee refused to pass my bill to fight drug crime,” LePage said. “With the rising number of drug-addicted births, drug arrests and overdose deaths, it is unconscionable that liberals are still soft on drug crime.”

But Democrats said it was LePage’s “11th-hour high jinks” that caused the bills to fail.

 “It should be no surprise that Gov. LePage to the very end would obstruct the hard work done in the Legislature,” Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a prepared statement. “Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle tried to make this happen. We tried to do this, but no matter what good ideas were brought forward, the governor refused to compromise. It’s unfortunate that the governor did not take his job seriously enough to work with us. ”

Lawmakers decided to “pull the plug” on further negotiations, according to a release issued by Democrats.

“Once Democrats and Republicans found a compromise on the bill to address the drug crisis and agreed to fund nursing homes, the governor couldn’t take ‘yes’ for an answer,” House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said. “At midnight on the final hour of veto day, we have all grown tired of his my-way-or-the-highway approach. Republicans and Democrats agreed to not move forward with bills he would veto.”  

On Thursday, lawmakers overrode 14 of the 48 vetoes issued by LePage before adjourning. The next Legislature is not expected to begin its official work until December. The Legislature officially adjourned at about 12:30 a.m. Friday.

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