Governor Paul LePage's plan for a special legislative session is in question following a conversation between the Republican governor and the House Democratic Leader.
House Minority Leader Emily Cain says LePage told her by phone he did not plan on calling the legislature back into session, and he would address his plans in January. It's a phone call that LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett described as private. "Clearly Representative Cain thought it was in her best interest, her best political interest, to go to the media on this," Bennett said Friday.
LePage first spoke of his plans to call the special session at a Republican fundraiser earlier this week but refused to talk about the specifics of the plan. When asked why the governor would bring it up in the first place without outlining his plan, Bennett said he thought he was surrounded by supporters and didn't realize he was being recorded. "We will release all of the details. We will be very transparent about this. The governor strongly feels that this is the best approach for Mainers," she said, saying LePage is waiting to hear from the Attorney General as to the legality of the plan before commenting publicly.
TV-5 News has now learned part of what LePage is hoping to get accomplished.
According to highly placed sources in the State House, if the governor had decided and was able to call lawmakers back for a special session, he's hoping to use the money from the state's liquor contract to help pay down the debt owed by the state to Maine's hospitals.
Sources tell TV-5 the deal is contingent on hospitals agreeing to drop a provision in the law requiring state approval for certain hospital expansion projects. If LePage gets his way, hospitals would no longer need a Certificate of Need to perform certain expansions or developments. According to the Maine Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, a Certificate of Need reviews and recommends either approval or denial of projects undertaken by health care facilities or other covered providers. In Maine, CON review is required for the expansion or development of health care services or facilities that either cost more than a threshold amount, indexed each year for inflation, or proposes a substantial reduction in capacity for certain types of providers.
Back in 2004, the state signed a 10-year deal with the Maine Beverage Commission that netted the state $125-million up front, money they used to balance the budget at the time. Some critics of the deal say it may have cost the state as much as $100 million in lost revenue over the life of the deal.
According to the current agreement, all liquor sold in Maine must pass through Maine Beverage Company's Augusta warehouse. The five member Liquor and Lottery Commission decides how much to charge for liquor sold in Maine. That price is determined using a certain set of criteria.
The state's liquor contract is scheduled to be renegotiated next year, with the state getting a larger piece of the lucrative liquor pie this time around.
According to sources, that's money LePage would like to use to pay down the hospital debt. According to sources, the state debt to hospitals was $125-million in January, but is much higher now. The debt comes from hospitals continuing to serve Medicaid patients without being fully reimbursed by the state.
Friday, Democratic leaders blasted the governor for what they call a lack of transparency. "He'd rather just bulldoze or ramrod his agenda, his ideological agenda, down the throats of Democrats and all of Mainers," Senator Justin Alfond, a Portland Democrat, said Friday. "They're now covering their tracks because they once again are sloppy, they don't care about transparent government, and we now have another embarrassing story coming out of the state of Maine."
That's a charge Bennett flatly denies saying a special session may still happen. "All options are on the table for the governor and we will be transparent. We're not talking about a secret special session. We're talking about a normal special session that's going to have all the players at the table, both Democrats and Republicans."
Sources: LePage Hopes To Pay Down Hospital Debt With Liquor Money In Special Session