LePage, Mayhew tout bond rating as proof welfare cuts have worked

Good morning from Augusta, where the snow continues to melt around the State House and the stack of bills awaiting their first day in the sun is similarly shrinking.

Two high-profile bills are up for work sessions in the Health and Human Services Committee. The first, but Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Harpswell, would expand Medicaid coverage for reproductive health and family planning to cover more girls and women.

The bill is a priority for Democrats and women’s advocacy groups. A similar bill last year would have provided services such as cervical cancer screenings and birth control to an additional 13,700 women, but the effort fell to LePage’s veto pen.

The second bill would make Meals on Wheels eligible for MaineCare funding, eliminating ongoing funding concerns about the program that provides hot meals to seniors. Its sponsor is Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth. Cooper said the program is currently funded by a “patchwork of unpredictable sources,” including federal funds that have been cut.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, will present a bill in the Judiciary Committee that would establish the Maine Fourth Amendment Protection Act. Its goal? Prevent Maine agencies from assisting the feds in the bulk collection of electronic data or metadata. It’s essentially a bill to prevent the state from taking part in the data collection program revealed by Edward Snowden.

The Agriculture Committee will consider two bills regarding the use of pesticide; one, by Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, would prohibit most pesticide use at public schools, while another, by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, would eliminate some notification requirements when pesticide is used. 

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to sign up to receive the Daily Brief in your inbox every morning.– Mario Moretto.

LePage touts Fitch rating as proof  welfare cuts are working

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration on Wednesday touted a report by Fitch Ratings, a top bond rating agency, that cited the state’s Medicaid cuts as a key contributor in the states continued good ratings.

“Several years ago, the state began implementing major changes to MaineCare including reduced eligibility and provider payments, and elimination of previously covered services,” the agency wrote. Fitch also noted that state spending on MaineCare through January 2015 was essentially flat, year over year.

Those cuts translated to thousands of low-income Mainers losing health coverage through the federally funded program.

Mary Mayhew, LePage’s health and human services commissioner, took the renewed AA and A+ ratings from Fitch as an opportunity to blast Democrats on the Legislature’s health committee, who gave the green light to proposed spending initiatives in LePage’s budget plan, but rejected other efforts to cut additional services.

“Democrats yesterday proposed to increase DHHS spending without any corresponding cuts and to raise taxes to pay for it, and that is exactly the kind of policy that created the mess the Governor inherited in 2011,” Mayhew said in a written statement. “That behavior will only hurt Maine’s bond rating and increase the cost of servicing Maine’s debt, the burden of which ultimately falls on the taxpayers”

That attack line is a bit of a stretch. Mayhew would have you think that cuts in one area of DHHS are the only way to fund popular spending initiatives elsewhere in the department. If you want to more money for Maine’s struggling nursing homes — and who doesn’t? — you have to enact cuts to other health programs, such as anti-smoking efforts, she says.

But nowhere is it written that increased spending in one department must be balanced by cuts elsewhere in the same department. The HHS Committee only has jurisdiction over its piece of the budget. By approving LePage’s new spending plans and rejecting his cuts, all they’re doing is asking the Appropriations Committee to find the money elsewhere.

Now, Mayhew and others have criticized Democrats for just that tactic in the past, saying the bloated spending in DHHS, especially on the MaineCare program, has cannibalized worthwhile programs elsewhere in state government. That tactic is not sustainable, they say.

The point is, this budget is far from done, and we’re going to see over and over again that there’s more than one way to fund an initiative, regardless of what a political soundbite might lead you to believe. — Mario Moretto.

Line up at Saco school to ask your state budget questions

Reminder for those of you in Southern Maine — LePage will hold a public forum tonight at 6 p.m. at Thornton Academy, where he’ll present his two-year, $6.57 billion  budget plan and take questions from the audience.

LePage has been criss-crossing the state promoting his proposal since a Feb. 11 forum in Westbrook. Today at 8 a.m., he’ll address the Southern Midcoast Chamber of Commerce, though by the time you read this, it will likely be too late to attend, if you’re not already there. — Mario Moretto

Reading list

Solar energy advocate uses LePage, Blaine House for April Fools’ prank

I’d never heard of the “Solar Energy Maine” blog before yesterday. At first blush, the website looks like one for a typical advocacy group or nonprofit, and their trolling blog post “LePage announces solar panels to be installed on Blaine House” looked like a press release.

Obviously, it wasn’t, but I know for some smart people who fell for it, at least for a moment. Here’s a screenshot:

solar prank

Despite the LOLs all around on Twitter, I’m sure glad April Fools’ Day is over. — Mario Moretto.

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. Mario left the BDN in 2015.