AUGUSTA – With less than two months remaining in the current legislative session, Democrats in Augusta appear to be in complete disarray over whether to pay Maine’s nearly $500 million hospital debt – and what, if anything, to demand in return.
Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage has made repaying the hospitals a chief priority of the 2013 legislative season, but he has encountered an ideologically rigid Democratic Party that is interested more in partisan games than solving problems.
LePage introduced his hospital repayment plan, which uses bonds taken against liquor contract revenues to pay the half-a-billion-dollar debt, four months ago.
Democrats responded by introducing a plan of their own at an over-hyped press conference in the State House.
On that day, Senate President Justin L. Alfond (D-Cumberland) and House Speaker Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick) unveiled a “comprehensive” plan that turned out to be little more than an infographic and some platitudinous talking points.
When the Democratic alternative became a bill from Rep. Seth Goodall (D-Richmond), it appeared that Democrats were really serious about repaying the hospitals, albeit without retooling the state’s liquor contract.
But the Majority Party’s alternative to the LePage plan floundered when the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review determined Goodall’s bill would be a worse deal for Maine, causing the state to lose out on $32 million in liquor revenue.
Out of the ashes of the Democrats plan rose new found agreement that LePage’s plan might not be a bad idea after all. Yet despite general consensus that LePage’s plan is an excellent idea to make good on past debts while simultaneously stimulating Maine’s healthcare-based economy, Democrats refuse to support it. (Recommended: Sun Journal: LePage has better idea for liquor contract…)
“Mainers know that hospitals provide good jobs and are vital to the local economy. They know that paying our bills is the right thing to do,” said the Governor. “So why are Democrats still refusing to pay the hospitals?”
“Let’s put each legislator on the record with a clean vote on the hospital bill — do they want to pay the hospitals or not?”
The answer to the Governor’s question, according to State House sources, is that Democrats are dithering on hospital debt repayment because they cannot decide whether to tie Medicaid expansion to the deal.