AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage withdrew his support for the state’s first cold case squad Tuesday because the bill funding it doesn’t include money for all the new state narcotics agents he sought.

“This is what’s important: The state of Maine is currently losing on average one overdose a day and three babies addicted to opiates are born every day, and they want me to go sign a bill [into law] to go chase people,” LePage said during a telephone interview on WVOM’s George Hale Ric Tyler Show.

The cold case squad is designed to help close dozens of unsolved homicides in Maine dating back several decades.

“I am so empathetic and I feel so badly for people that have been murdered and for their families, but at the same time I need to prevent it from happening in the future,” he added, “and I need those DEA agents.”

LePage told the radio audience he would not sign the bill funding the cold case squad. He did not say he would veto it.

The Legislature and LePage voted the squad into law last year but declined to fund it. Rep. Karl Ward, R-Dedham, submitted a bill in December seeking $510,799 annually to fund two state police detective positions and a forensic chemist, plus startup costs.


Ward’s bill was combined with several other similar bills. The combination bill that passed, LD 1121, was sponsored by Ward and Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco. The Appropriations Committee trimmed the funding to $491,662 and added an amendment to fund the squad effective July 1. They also amended the bill to include the effort to fund additional MDEA agents and cut the number of agents from seven to four.

LePage’s $8.1 million drug enforcement plan called for four additional District Court judges, seven additional MDEA agents and four assistant attorneys general. The amendment the Appropriations Committee voted 13-0 to approve on June 1 cuts the MDEA agents from seven to four. On the radio show, LePage said he actually wanted eight new MDEA agents.

Ward said he had heard of LePage’s statements but believed the Democrat and Republican versions of the state budget both carry the cold case funding. Ward said the squad initiative has “incredibly strong bipartisan support.”

“These are small potatoes. It’s big for these families, but it’s not a major budget item,” Ward said. “The things being weighed are the [budget items] that are tens of millions of dollars.”

LePage also said during Tuesday’s interview that his administration has left unfilled about 400 state government jobs and that the Legislature could “easily convert them” into squad funding if it chose to. Instead, legislators are “playing on people’s emotions.”

As part of his anti-drug campaign, LePage in late March cited Maine Department of Health and Human Services statistics showing that 961 babies were born addicted or affected by their mother’s drug use during pregnancy. That’s about 8 percent of the state’s live births.

Seventy cold cases were listed at on Tuesday. Twenty to 25 homicides occur annually in Maine. The Maine attorney general’s office, which prosecutes homicides, has an assistant attorney general handling cold cases, but state police work them when they have time, officials have said.

Patrick Day, a volunteer working with Ward to get the squad funded, said he found LePage’s statements ironic. Day was among cold case supporters who met with LePage last year and asked him to reallocate funding from the 400 jobs to the squad effort and he “refused” to do that.

“Today, he basically asked the Maine Legislature to do the same thing we asked him to do a year ago,” Day said. “We said we don’t want the cold case squad to be a political football. He did it last year, and he is certainly doing it now.”

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