Labor organization asks judge to force LePage to release federal funds

Good morning from Augusta, where Coastal Counties Workforce is escalating its legal battle against Gov. Paul LePage over unspent job training funds.

The suit has been building since last month. The Brunswick-based organization, which first sued the governor and Labor Commissioner John Butera in October, has filed for an injunction in U.S. District Court to force the administration to release federal 2017 Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act funds that have been left unspent. The money is meant to help laid-off workers, low-income adults and struggling young adults find work. LePage told the federal government in September that Maine would no longer participate in the program, which sends approximately $9 million a year to Maine.

On Friday, the organization filed its latest motion in the case. It argues that LePage and Butera are bound by federal law to use the funds within a month of receiving them, that the organization would suffer “irreparable harm” if the funds are not provided and that its suit is in the public interest.

Also on Friday, the LePage administration moved for the case to be dismissed. The arguments in favor of dismissal were that Coastal Counties does not have a cause of action against the government because there are no laws guaranteeing the organization the funding, and that the funds would be released upon the issuance of a contract.

The case will continue to heat up. The next scheduled milestone in the case is a motion hearing, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 18 in Portland with Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. There are likely to be more filings before then, such as each side’s response to the other’s demands.

It’s a case that’s being watched. LePage has proven over and over again that just because federal funds are available, that doesn’t mean they should be spent. LePage once threatened to stop administering the Supplemental Nutrition for Needy Families program and tried to adjust how Medicaid funds are spent. On the former issue, he has been in a lengthy debate with the federal government over which immigrants should be eligible for SNAP and at what point during their efforts to meet work requirements. Arguments in that case were heard last week.

Reading list

  • Maine’s Child Development Services system isn’t doing everything it’s supposed to do. Political flux for more than a decade has reduced the agency’s budget, caused children to go without services they qualify for or wait for them, and caused Maine’s performance to fall behind other states. This article is part of BDN Maine Focus’s Your School project.
  • Mainers spent $38 million more than they had to on power last year. An analysis by the BDN uncovered that figure and further found that residential power costs between 2012 and 2016 were as much as $98 million too high. New annual sales figures show Mainers could have saved if they had bought electricity at the standard price instead of from retail suppliers such as Electricity Maine or FairPoint Energy.
  • Susan Collins says sexual harassment claims against President Donald Trump ‘remain very disturbing’ and that the Republican tax proposal ‘needs work.’ The Republican senator made two Sunday TV appearances, saying misconduct allegations against Trump were reasons why she didn’t support his election and said she wants changes to the “tax reform” proposal from Senate Republicans. We explored her reasoning last week.
  • A Mainer was the only American ever executed for slave trading. The BDN’s Troy R. Bennett has the story of Capt. Nathaniel Gordon, a Portlander nabbed by the U.S. government off the coast of Africa on a fourth, final and illegal slave trading trip in 1860. He was awaiting his execution in a New York City prison this week in 1861. He was executed the next year.

The congressman likes … techno?

LePage likes 1960s soul music. Collins was hauled on-stage by Cyndi Lauper during a Bangor concert this year. But U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District likes techno.

The Republican sat recently for an interview with WLBZ in which he said his son, Sam, introduced him to the genre, saying “I don’t listen to music often, but when I do, I listen to techno.”

“It’s got a beat to it. It’s dancing music. It’s happy music,” the congressman/cool dad said, winning himself a new soundtrack for his commute to the House floor. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd. 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.

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.