LePage dings Michaud for highway fund shortfall; Obama’s problem with Christians

Gov. Paul LePage. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre

Gov. Paul LePage. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre

Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chastising the congressman for not ushering a solution to the federal Highway Trust Fund shortfall through Congress.

Though the letter was sent Wednesday, it wasn’t made public until Friday afternoon, when LePage’s office issued a press release describing the letter. In the release, the administration never referenced  Michaud, who is LePage’s Democratic opponent in this year’s gubernatorial election, by name. Instead, it referred to “Maine’s Representative from the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.”

The Highway Trust Fund is used to pay the federal government’s share of highway and transit infrastructure costs. The feds pay about a quarter of the cost for these sorts of projects while state and local governments shoulder the rest.

The main source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund is the gas tax, which has stayed level at just over 18 cents per gallon since the early ’90s. But Americans are driving less, and when they do drive, they’re doing so in more fuel-efficient vehicles. Meanwhile, the amount of transportation infrastructure work needed has stayed stable or grown, and the gas tax hasn’t been enough to meet the need.

So there’s a shortfall. There’s only about $3.9 billion in the fund right now, and the government predicts that by late August or early September, the account will be in the red. If the issue isn’t addressed, and quickly, nearly $50 billion worth of highway and transit infrastructure this year will be affected.

(Vox.com has a really good set of explainers about the Highway Trust Fund shortfall, you should check them out.)

Because of gridlock in Congress, there’s been no bill passed to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund. So the feds have begun informing the states that new “cash management procedures” will begin on Aug. 1. In his letter to Michaud, LePage says that will result in a $27 million to $29 million cut in funding for projects in Maine.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. BDN Instagram by Mario Moretto.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. BDN Instagram by Mario Moretto.

LePage said that, if necessary, he will seek additional bonds to cover whatever shortfall is created in Maine by Congressional inaction. He also criticizes Michaud, and said that if nothing is done, Maine should be allowed to collect the gas tax that currently goes into Congressional coffers.

“Please do your job and give us a reliable roadmap by fixing the trust fund and passing a re-authorization of MAP-21 [a $105 billion highway fund allocation approved in 2012],” LePage wrote. “If you choose to continue to do nothing — maybe you should at least let the states just collect taxes currently going to Washington. My administration knows how to manage money and it knows how to get it done.”

Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt said a reduction this summer in federal funding would hit Maine especially hard.

“This potential inaction would have devastating effects in Maine,” he said in a written statement. “Unlike warm-weather states, Maine has hundreds of capital projects that are performed in a short construction season.” Basically, even if funding only takes a cut for a few months while Congress gets its act together, it’ll have a big impact on Maine projects, and on jobs.

The Republicans control the House of Representatives. As a Democrat, Michaud is in the minority on the House Transportation COmmittee.

Republcans control not only that committee — actually, all House committees — but the schedule in Congress. They control the reins of power. And, as has been widely reported, it’s been Republican opposition that has stymied efforts to replenish the Highway Fund, (due at least in part to the fact that raising the gas tax is the most straightforward way to address the problem — a policy solution that’s anathema to no-new-tax segment of the House GOP).

“At the end of the day, the Republicans control the House of Representatives,” said Michaud’s congressional spokesman, Dan Rafter. “It’s confusing how you can point the finger at one person, in the minority, on one committee, and try to place the blame squarely on their shoulders.”

It’s also worth noting that while the Transportation Committee is responsible for coming up with a long-term solution to the regular funding issues in the Highway Trust Fund, it’s the House Ways and Means Committee that’s charged with establishing a short-term solution right now. Michaud is not a member of that committee.

Ways and Means introduced a proposal last week that would replenish the Fund until May, and the House is expected to act on the proposal next week.

Alex Willette, LePage’s campaign spokesman, said it doesn’t matter that Michaud is in the minority. He represents Maine in Congress, and should take a leading role on this issue, Willette said.

“[Republican] Sen. Susan Collins is a minority member in the Senate, and she accomplishes great things,” Willette said. “Mike Michaud is not doing what it takes for the state of Maine to address this issue. Gov. LePage is urging him to put his best foot forward and get something done.”

Michaud has floated one solution to the Highway Trust Fund shortfall. His bill would have created additional revenue by closing a tax loophole for American companies that incorporate overseas to avoid taxation. That proposal didn’t go anywhere with majority Republicans.

Michaud and his 1st Congressional District counterpart, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, also a Democrat, opposed a plan by House Speak John Boehner, R-Ohio, to fix the shortfall by ending U.S. Postal Service delivery on Saturdays.

In a written statement,

“As I have been saying for months, this is a serious matter that impacts not just Maine jobs, but the safety and integrity of our roads and bridges,” Michaud said in a prepared comment. “While I am encouraged that Republican leadership has finally decided to address the immediate cash shortfall, it is time for them to work across the aisle toward a long-term solution so Congress is not dealing with another manufactured crisis next May.”

Obama’s problem with Christians (and Mormons)

A new poll by Gallup shows that President Barack Obama’s approval ratings are highest among Muslims, Jews, Atheists and others who are religious but not-Christian. More than 50 percent of each of those four groups approve of Obama’s performance.

On the flip side, less than half of the Catholics, Protestants and other Christians, and Mormons polled said they approved of Obama’s job performance.

Obama job approval by religion

 

The data represents an aggregate from the first six months of Gallup’s daily tracking poll in 2014.

Gallup reports that Obama’s approval rating, broken down by religious group, has been largely stable throughout his presidency.

As Obama’s overall job approval rating has had its ups and downs over the five-plus years he has been president, his ratings among religious groups have moved in tandem. That is, Americans of various faiths seem to react similarly to the factors that cause the president’s popularity to wax and wane, rather than reacting in idiosyncratic ways tied to their religious beliefs.

Clearly, members of various religions view the president quite differently, but this may be attributable more to whether Obama’s Democratic affiliation matches the political leanings of each religious group, and less to the specific policies and actions he has taken throughout his presidency.

LePage will skip governors meetings

As first reported by MPBN, Gov. Paul LePage will not attend upcoming meetings of the National Governors’ Association or the New England Governors.

The reason? Hitting the streets and meeting with Mainers (read: Maine voters) is just a better use of his time. (This is a theme echoed by a top Republican operative in a story about the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, published in the BDN yesterday.)

In response to my request for comment, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said members of LePage’s staff or Cabinet often attend meetings in the governor’s place. DECD Commissioner George Gervais, DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho and the head of the Governor’s Energy Office, Patrick Woodcock, will attend the New England Governors/Eastern Canada Premiers coference in New Hampshire this weekend.

“The Governor’s Cabinet members are capable of conveying messages from the [meeting] as they apply to policy,” Bennett wrote. “Governor LePage will attend the Moxie Festival this weekend in Lisbon Falls, an event the Governor has attended for the past three years.”

In an interview with MPBN’s Mal Leary on Thursday, LePage said the summer NGA meetings are a waste of time:

“Republican governors sitting on one side of the table, the other governors, the democratic governors on the other side of the table and we say niceties to each other and nothing happens. We don’t make policy,” he said.

LePage also recently told reporters that, as the only Republican governor in New England, he feels his voice often goes unheard.

It is unclear whether anyone from the Governor’s administration will attend the NGA meeting in Nashville, Tennessee this weekend.

In December last year, LePage joined the other New England governors in committing to a joint energy infrastructure agenda, with the goal of “affordable, cleaner and reliable power for homes and businesses across the Northeast.” Among other things, the statements from each governor point to a fledgling plan to bring higher natural gas capacity to all of New England.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.