The powerful Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (we call it “Approps”) heard from a lot of experts at its meeting Tuesday. But one group they didn’t hear from was the LePage administration, a fact lamented several times by Senate Chairwoman Dawn Hill, D-York, throughout the six-hour session.
Hill said the lack of availability from LePage’s department heads has compromised the panel’s ability to fully conduct its business, and Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves sent the governor a letter admonishing his administration and requesting an immediate meeting with LePage and DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt.
Bernhardt, along with Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Sawin Millett and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew were all invited to the meeting, Hill said. None were in attendance.
Neria Douglass, the state treasurer, was also not in attendance at the meeting, despite being invited, though Hill did not take issue with her absence. That could be because others were available to speak to finance questions, whereas none of the above-named commissioners sent surrogates. Or it could be because Douglass was the Democrats’ pick for the post when they regained majorities in the House and Senate in 2012.
It’s not the first time LePage and Hill have gone head-to-head at Approps. Near the end of last session, after months of bitter antagonism between lawmakers and the governor, Hill refused to allow the governor to address the Committee, saying she silenced the governor so that the meeting could end “on a good note.”
After being kicked off the stump, LePage said he would not allow any of his department heads to testify to the committee, saying he’d be its only representative from the executive branch.
Adrienne Bennett, press secretary for the governor, said the committee and Democratic Leaders — who issued a press release decrying the LePage administration for not showing up Tuesday — were making much ado about nothing.
“Our commissioners do have departments to run,” she said. “Commisssioner Bernhardt is dealing with [Maine, Montreal and Atlantic Railway], and Commissioner Mayhew has the largest department in the state.”
Approps drafted letters to each department head, and Bennett said LePage’s administration is available to answer any and all questions.
– Mario Moretto