LePage: I was ‘completely in the dark’ on budget despite staff involvement

Good morning from Augusta.

In a radio interview this morning on WGAN, Gov. Paul LePage maintained that he was “completely in the dark” about negotiations between lawmakers and the governor’s staff, which ultimately resulted in the $6.7 billion budget deal that the Legislature approved over LePage’s veto in June. 

LePage has railed against the negotiations, which he called “secretive, late-night decisions made under the cover of darkness and behind locked doors.”

But documents obtained by the Portland Press Herald revealed that several senior members of LePage’s staff were involved in those negotiations, including Deputy Chief of Staff Kathleen Newman and Deputy Finance Commissioner Michael Allen. 

On WGAN, LePage said that his staff simply provided analysis from Maine Revenue Services, information to which lawmakers would not have otherwise had access. 

“I was completely in the dark. What my staff did is the Legislature doesn’t have the capacity to do analysis, despite the high-paid salary up there,” LePage said during a segment on WGAN’s Ken and Mike Show. 

Furthermore, LePage said he was insulated from the work of his staff: “I don’t go grab them [the analyses] and look at them,” he said. “They get whatever they want. It doesn’t mean I looked at it.”

In the interview, LePage touched on numerous other subjects. Here are some highlights:

On his relationship with lawmakers: “I don’t worry about the Legislature anymore,” LePage said. “They do what they do, I do what I do. Let’s move on.”

On Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves being hired by Good Will-Hinckley, and why he threatened to withhold $530,000 in annual state funding to that organization if it did not fire Eves (which it did): “He [Eves] voted against every charter school bill while I’ve been governor. He made public statements that charter schools were inferior schools,” LePage said. “My mindset was this guy’s a plant by the unions to destroy charter schools. … There’s more to life than just your brains. You gotta have the heart. You’ve got to have heart. And that man had no heart.”

You can listen to the full interview, with Ken Altshuler and Matthew Gagnon (standing in for Mike Violette) here. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Angus King wants to cut wait period for asylum seekers to get jobs

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, will introduce a bill to decrease the mandatory wait period in current law that prevents asylum seekers in the United States from obtaining work.

Currently, asylum seekers must wait 150 days after their asylum applications are received before they are allowed to work. King’s legislation would cut that time down to 30 days.

King said the move is designed to get asylum seekers into the workforce so they can provide for themselves, rather than relying on General Assistance funds provided at the local level.

GA became a flash point this year as Gov. Paul LePage and many of his Republican allies sought to end the state’s reimbursement to municipalities for its share of benefits awarded to asylum seekers and other immigrants, who LePage continues to deride as “illegals.”

The Legislature passed a bill in June that would guarantee asylum seekers and other legally present immigrants would be eligible for GA for up to two years. The bill is one of 65 the Legislature says passed into law because of LePage’s inaction, though LePage disputes that claim and the issue is currently before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

King, along with Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Hall, and Philemon Dushimire, an asylee from Burundi, will hold a press conference to unveil the bill tomorrow. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Poliquin, Maine GOP celebrate trade decision opposed by LePage

Reaction was split over a decision by U.S. trade officials to impose duties on Canadian imports of supercalendered paper (a thin, glossy grade used for magazines and other color printing applications).

The preliminary decision Monday was long-sought by Madison Paper Industries and Verso Paper Corp., both of which own paper mills in Maine, who said Canadian subsidies — particularly for the PortHawkesbury mill, on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island — created unfair competition.

In its decision, the International Trade Administration agreed. As a result, a 20 percent tariff on supercalendared paper from the Port Hawkesbury mill in Nova Scotia and other producers will be levied at the U.S. border pending further investigation and a final decision on duties later this year.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who has advocated for U.S. action to level the competitive playing field for Maine mills he said suffer as a result of the Canadian subsidies, hailed the move as a job-saving measure. Poliquin, along with Madison Paper officials, have led the charge against the Canadian trade subsidies.
The Maine Republican Party also celebrated the decision — and Poliquin. “It is heartening for me to see Bruce, our Congressman, fighting for Maine’s workers and the economy,” wrote Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett in an email blast.
But for all the huzzahs coming from the congressman and the party, the GOP’s standard-bearer in state government, Gov. Paul LePage, was likely disheartened by the news.
In a July 17 letter to a White House adviser, LePage said he was concerned about the decision’s impact on the Canadian companies J.D. Irving Ltd. and Catalyst Paper, which he wrote employ a combined 1,200 people in Maine. Irving has significant timber holdings and lumber mills in the state and Catalyst became owner of the Rumford paper mill in January.
The duties for Irving and Catalyst were based on an average of those assessed on the Port Hawkesbury mill and Resolute Paper, which trade officials investigated individually. LePage and Catalyst argued that method of having an “all-others” duty is unfair.
A final decision on tariffs will depend on further approvals in October and December by U.S. trade authorities. — Darren Fishell, with some help by Mario Moretto, BDN.

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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.