Good morning from Augusta. National progressives are seeing Maine as a beacon of hope after Tuesday’s vote to expand Medicaid to 70,000 people under the Affordable Care Act. But they’re also getting the message that it could be the beginning of a larger fight.
Maine’s vote was a national highlight for progressives and may spur ballot challenges in other states. At the end of an Election Day when Democrats took governor’s seats in Virginia and New Jersey, Slate called Maine’s first-in-the-nation expansion vote perhaps the “biggest policy news of the night.” Activists in deep-red Utah and Idaho are planning their own ballot initiatives on expansion in Maine’s image.
But here at home, the fight has sort of just begun even though it’s been going on for years. Gov. Paul LePage and some of his allies set their alarms early on Wednesday to say they’ll do anything they can to stop expansion before it starts and Democrats were up just as early, vowing to do anything they can to save it. We explored what’s in store for the political debate and what LePage could do to avoid implementation.
And the feds signaled they want to change Medicaid rules while Mainers were voting for expansion. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services administrator Seema Verma said in a speech Tuesday in Virginia that the federal government wants states to require more from “working-age, able-bodied Medicaid enrollees” and to allow more flexibility in customizing Medicaid plans in general.
It’s looking like Medicaid expansion will continue to be one of Maine’s signature issues through the 2018 campaign. Democratic gubernatorial candidates raced to back expansion after LePage’s statement on Thursday. Adam Cote tweeted that it will be his “first priority” in office. Betsy Sweet called anything less than full implementation “a slap in the face” to voters. Meanwhile, Republican candidates Mary Mayhew and Ken Fredette were on WVOM making the case against expansion.
Maine’s largest sugarbush could get conservation funding today
The Big Six Forest project is asking for $1.25 million to help complete a deal giving the landowner a $5.7 million conservation easement. The board of the Land for Maine’s Future program will meet on Thursday to hand out preliminary awards. The best-known project is the Big Six Forest, the largest U.S. sugarbush that gained attention earlier this year when LePage threw support for the award behind Madison businessman Paul Fortin despite the governor’s past criticism of the program. Fortin has said that he may have to cut the maple trees if he doesn’t win the easement, but some are skeptical of that. He has also sharply increased lease prices for producers since buying the Somerset County land on the Canadian border in 2012.
A good day for Maine’s U.S. House members
U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin claimed minor congressional victories on Wednesday. Pingree’s Fair Debt Notice Act would give veterans more timely and concise notice about debts they’ve incurred with the Veterans Administration. The provision passed the U.S. House unanimously on Wednesday. The concept now goes to the Senate. Poliquin also had a good day when his bill to help an Old Town airport expand moved to the Senate. The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee is expected to vote on the proposal as part of a larger land management bill this morning.
- The state won’t be penalized for breaking welfare spending rules. The Department of Health and Human Services spent $13.4 million in 2015 and 2016 on elderly and disabled Mainers, using TANF money that was meant for low-income families with children. A federal official told the Bangor Daily News that there will be no penalty because the state reversed the unlawful spending after the newspaper’s reporting.
- The Public Utilities Commission says they may look for better ways to hold power companies accountable when Mainers go without electricity. Within 30 days, Central Maine Power must file documents outlining what it cost to restore electricity after last week’s wind storm and a PUC decision would come after that. Other states have implemented consequences for utility companies that leave their customers in the dark.
- And electricity costs are rising. Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro customers who receive the “standard offer” will be affected. Starting in January, their monthly bills are expected to rise between 5 percent and 8 percent on average.
- An abortion protester who is a familiar face in Portland is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against his city’s noise regulations. The protester, Andrew March, organizes events regularly outside Planned Parenthood on Congress Street. In 2015, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that protesters can be cited for breaking a noise ordinance; March is appealing that decision.
- BDN data guru Darren Fishell had fun providing different ways to view town-by-town election results. Click here to see them. Here’s our soundtrack.
Andy Slavitt, an administrator with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is thrilled that Mainers voted Tuesday to allow “80,000 Mariners” into the state Medicaid program.
That’s what he tweeted, anyway. Not many people probably noticed until the Seattle Mariners baseball team responded that they don’t have 80,000 players.
Phew. There’s no way the Sox could beat that kind of bullpen. Here is their soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins
Veterans Day is Saturday, but the federal holiday will be observed Friday. For that reason, there will be no Daily Brief tomorrow. Thank you to all who have served our country. Here’s your soundtrack.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.