LePage: Democrats want to keep Mainers in poverty to win their votes

Gov. Paul LePage continued a familiar refrain on Tuesday when he said Democrats in the Legislature are on a mission to keep people in poverty and dependent on social service programs.

LePage said during a wide-ranging interview on WVOM that Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon’s bill to spend $150 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program funding on a range of enhancement and additions to social service programs is also based on false information.

Gideon and the Democrats, citing a 2016 report from the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review that showed $150 million in unspent TANF funds at the end of fiscal year 2016, are lining up behind the new bill, which also has four Republican sponsors from some of Maine’s more economically depressed areas.

“I am not sitting on $150 million of uncommitted funds,” said LePage on Tuesday. “She is just dead wrong. … We’re all sitting around wondering what she’s talking about. They’ll have to come down and show me where the money is.”

LePage and the Democrats have clashed mightily over social services, particularly TANF, for years. LePage has made a range of moves to restrict the program, including capping it to five years lifetime and a new pending proposal to reduce the cap to three years, as well as increasing work and volunteerism requirements in the job-training arm of the program.

The governor often attributes his re-election to a second term and Republicans’ relative success in legislative elections, in part, to the changes they made to social service programs.

LePage questioned Gideon’s assertion that extreme childhood poverty in Maine is increasing at eight times the national average — which Gideon attributed to the U.S. Census bureau’s American Community Survey — and reiterated the results of his own office’s study that found TANF reforms are producing higher incomes and more people in the workforce.

A BDN analysis of that study found that it focused too much on specific groups and not enough on overall statewide wage increases. DHHS told the BDN at the time that it would further analyze IRS data to supplement the study but that hasn’t happened yet.

LePage said Gideon wants to use her bill as a leverage point over negotiations around a 3-percent surtax on income above $200,000, which was enacted by Maine voters last year for the benefit of public schools. That is the looming friction point that could lead to a legislative stalemate on the two-year state budget proposal that is currently under consideration.

“This has nothing to do with welfare,” said LePage. “It has everything to do with taxation.”

In other topics discussed on WVOM:

LePage reiterated his complaint that the process leading up to former President Barack Obama’s declaration of a national monument in the Katahdin region lacked transparency. He claimed that his communications with Lucas St. Clair, who testified with LePage last week at a congressional committee hearing about designation of national monuments, had been poor and that he could not recall receiving an invitation from St. Clair to view the property before the designation. St. Clair represents his family, who donated the land and set up an endowment to care for it.

“We’ve been looking ever since I’ve been back [from Washington],” said LePage of his staff. “I’m going to tell you I can count them on one hand and they’re mostly complaint letters rather than inviting me to be involved in the process.”

LePage said his spat with State Treasurer Terry Hayes over transportation bond money could lead to the discovery that restricting a request for proposals for a law firm to represent the state in a spring bond sale was a form of “white-collar crime.”

Without evidence, he insinuated that the winning firm helped write the RFP in a way that excluded Maine firms. But Hayes told the Bangor Daily News on Friday that the language in question, which asks for references from three other state treasurers, has been used by other Maine treasurers. — Christopher Cousins with Michael Shepherd

Somebody tell this lobbyist who’s paying him to back a York County casino

Daniel Riley, the lobbyist who told a legislative committee he was working for one of the offshore firms behind Maine’s 2018 casino referendum in March now says he wasn’t working for them.

The Portland Press Herald reported on Monday that Riley sent a letter to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee in April saying Universal Capital Holdings LLC — not Northern Mariana Islands-based Bridge Capital — hired him and he doesn’t know who the principals are.

Riley didn’t answer emailed questions from the Bangor Daily News on Monday, but there’s reason for skepticism: Riley said during the March hearing that one of Bridge Capital’s lawyers hired him to testify and it’s unknown where Universal Capital is based or whether they’re substantively different than other companies involved.

U.S. Virgin Islands developer Shawn Scott, who would get the rights to a new casino under the question, is known for convoluted financial dealings and the network behind the campaign is facing scrutiny from the Maine Ethics Commission for late reporting of more than $4 million in loans. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

The House and Senate convene this morning. Check out their calendars here and here.

  • The House could take another vote on a bill that would eliminate daylight saving time and switch Maine from the Eastern to the Atlantic Standard Time Zone. The House and Senate have both approved the concept, which is contingent on what New Hampshire and Massachusetts do, but there is disagreement between the chambers about whether to send the issue to referendum.
  • The House will also vote on whether to override two gubernatorial vetoes. LD 365 would remove the requirement that the courts order a background check of a non-biological parent in an adoption petition. LePage wrote in his veto letter that he fears the bill would put children at risk. The second veto, of LD 135, comes from the Senate with a 35-0 override vote on Thursday. The bill would give the Department of Health and Human Services the option to give representatives of incapacitated or dependent adults information regarding an estate.
  • Possibly coming up in the House today is LD 56, which would add “nips” or other alcohol bottles less than 50 milliliters to Maine’s returnable bottle bill. LD 338, which would exempt certain veterans from the motor vehicle excise tax, is also on the docket. Here’s your soundtrack.
  • The Senate could debate and vote on LD 422, which would place a two-year moratorium on government entities extracting more than 75,000 gallons of groundwater or more than 50,000 gallons on any given day. In the interim, the state would develop recommendations to ensure the availability of drinking water for all Mainers. The bill comes out of committee with a divided report.
  • There are three bills in the Senate today that have to do with Sunday hunting, but each comes out of committee with divided ought not to pass reports. The Legislature has never budged on Sunday hunting. These are among several hunting-related bills in the Senate today. In one of the more high-profile debates of this legislative session, the Senate could take up LD 820, which is a comprehensive and long-worked-on bill that would make way for large-scale mining in Maine. The bill came out of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee with a 12-1 recommendation for passage.

There’s much more in the legislative committees on Tuesday.

  • A confirmation hearing is on tap in the Energy Committee for former Democratic lawmaker Barry Hobbins, who is LePage’s nominee for public advocate.
  • Also of note is a public hearing in the Health and Human Services Committee on a bill from Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, that would require the Legislature to study the reasons behind Maine’s rising infant mortality rate. — Christopher Cousins with Michael Shepherd

Reading list

A word for the promptest public servants

It’s Public Service Recognition Week. While our jobs are mostly to hound public servants, political hacks, bureaucrats and paper-pushers, we also rely on much of their good work.

For example, many of our stories would be less rich without the help of the Maine Law and Legislative Library, who promptly answer our most arcane questions about government.

In the past year, those questions have run the gamut from asking for a list of Mainers who have been in Congress only to later run for the Legislature to “Has a governor ever pardoned a dog?” But the librarians never hang up on us and usually provide detailed answers within a few hours.

The Legislature doesn’t work as quickly. (Where’s that budget?) But no matter what your politics are, the vast majority of them are good people trying to help Maine. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

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.