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Portland Democrats claim credit for paying hospitals

moonen alfond

Senate President Justin Alfond and Rep. Matt Moonen of Portland 

PORTLAND – Two Portland lawmakers are looking to capitalize on voters’ short memories, claiming in taxpayer-funded mail pieces that it was Democrats who pushed a bill that paid Maine’s hospitals for more than $700 million in medical welfare debt.

Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland) and Rep. Matt Moonen (D-Portland) have both sent mailers to their constituents touting paying the hospitals as one of the many successes of the Democrat-controlled 126th Legislature.

Neither letter makes clear that Democratic lawmakers put up great resistance, called Gov. Paul LePage’s plan unconstitutional and voted for it only after their every roadblock crumbled.

“[We] made the final payment to our hospitals,” Alfond says in his legislative update. Stretching even further, the update includes a picture of the Senate President standing before a poster which outlines the Democrats’ plan, which was ultimately rejected. The caption reads, “President Alfond unveiling the Democrats (sic) plan to repay Maine’s hospitals and expand access to healthcare.”

[RELATED: Alfond on video: "We might have to stop paying the hospitals..."

In Moonen's update, the first item under the "Strengthening Health Care" section reads: "Made the final $490 million debt payment to hospitals, which includes a federal match of $306 million and met a deadline that saves the state $5 million."

Remarkably, Moonen takes credit for clearing a deadline, despite supporting the very parliamentary maneuvers that risked missing that deadline.

[RELATED: Partisan politics stall hospital debt repayment...]

The more than $700 million owed to Maine’s hospitals was the result of several years of unpaid Medicaid bills.

The LePage administration originally proposed its plan to pay off that debt in its January budget proposal. The plan, which eventually became law, called for a renegotiating the state’s wholesale liquor contract and using bonds taken against expected future revenue to pay the hospitals.

Democratic lawmakers, led by Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick), stridently opposed the plan,  alleging it was unconstitutional and stalling it with procedural tactics.

Democratic allegations that LePage’s bill was unconstitutional were dismissed by Attorney General Janet Mills. So former Rep. Seth Goodall (D-Richmond) submitted the Democratic version of a plan to repay the hospitals.

[RELATED: Change of Heart: Democrats finally cave to mounting pressure on hospital repayment...]

That plan, which was linked to an expansion of the same medical welfare program that caused the debt, would have sent liquor contract revenue into the general fund rather than to the hospitals. Subsequent analysis by the non-partisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review determined that the Democrats’ plan would cause taxpayers to lose out on $32 million in liquor revenue.

Goodall’s bill ultimately failed to surmount LePage’s veto, and LePage’s plan passed late in the legislative session.

Alfond and Moonen are not the first Democrats to take credit for LePage’s hospital repayment plan. Former Democrat Gov. John Baldacci, in a radio interview with George Hale and Ric Tyler, also claimed it was his idea.

Steve Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
serobinson@themainewire.com

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