Lawmakers hand LePage stern rebukes in waning moments of legislative session

Happy Friday from Augusta, where the halls of the State House are in for some relative peace and quiet now that the Legislature has adjourned. 

The official “sine die” adjournment orders — which means the Legislature is officially done until January — were enacted at around 6 p.m. Thursday in what might have appeared to be an anticlimactic end to one of the most bruising and controversial legislative sessions in recent memory, if not in Maine political history. However, there was drama buried in the process as the Legislature gave Gov. Paul LePage one of the clearest rebukes the governor has seen during his tenure. 

On one hand, LePage scored a major victory when a bill that sought to limit his role in authorizing bonding died in the House of Representatives. Republicans there led the way to sustaining LePage’s veto of the bill, which had been sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta. The Senate voted 25-9 to override the veto. Read all about it in the Daily Brief Reading List, below.

On other issues, though, LePage lost. On Thursday morning, the governor sent to the Legislature 65 veto messages that have been caught for more than a week in controversy around whether the Legislature has been in adjournment or not. Most lawmakers considered the bills to be in law and LePage’s vetoes to be too late, so the Legislature refused to take them up. The governor’s staff spent considerable time and effort generating the veto letters — time that now appears to have been a waste, though LePage has vowed to take the issue to court. 

LePage also proposed a last-minute bill to extend the deadline on the sale of $6.5 million in Land for Maine’s Future bonds until June 2016. LePage has been blocking the sale of those bonds for years — to the point that they are near expiration — and said he proposed the bill in hopes that it would be an olive branch to rekindle discussions about a heating efficiency program he favors. 

Lawmakers responded by deleting all the language in LePage’s bill and replacing it with a resolve demanding that the governor release the bonds. They even changed the name of the bill to “A resolve directing the Governor and the Land for Maine’s Future Board to Fulfill the Will of Maine Voters and Issue Bonds Approved in 2010.” You can read the resolve by clicking here

And finally, when the Legislature adjourned, the House and Senate did not invite LePage to address lawmakers, as has been tradition on adjournment day for years. Not that anyone expected LePage to take them up on the offer. 

That brings us to today, when LePage is in the crosshairs again. The Government Oversight Committee will meet this morning to hear an early progress report about an investigation into LePage’s threat to withhold taxpayer dollars to force Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves out of a job at Good Will-Hinckley, an organization in Fairfield that among other things runs one of Maine’s charter schools. The Legislature’s investigatory watchdog agency, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, has been looking into the issue for a couple of weeks and will report this morning on its findings so far. 

UPDATE (9:30 a.m. on 7/17/15): The update at the Government Oversight Committee was about as quick as could be. OPEGA director Beth Ashcroft said the investigation is progressing and that she expects a more extensive report for lawmakers by September. 

Stay tuned to the Bangor Daily News for the latest developments. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Keep your chin up, Gardiner

Four downtown Gardiner buildings that overlook the Kennebec River lay in ashes this morning after a devastating fire there Thursday afternoon. The blaze was of a scope that will change the face of this city by the Kennebec River forever and I just wanted to offer a supportive word to the community whose mayor has called this a “community disaster.” — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.