Legislative leaders blast LePage for latest bond ploy

Good morning from Augusta, where the House and Senate return today with hopes of finishing up most of the Legislature’s work for the year amid a new conflict over the release of voter-approved bonds.

The conflict erupted on Friday. State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent candidate for governor, said that LePage missed a Thursday deadline to sign sale authorizations for bonds that need to go to market this week to fund ongoing transportation projects and keep state government accounting in order. Hayes said LePage has refused to authorize the bond sales. His office did not respond to questions about why he did so, LePage and Hayes have sparred on bond authority before. LePage briefly held up $600 million in money earmarked for construction projects last year over a contract with bond lawyers. The two struck a deal days later, ending an impasse that threatened 4,500 jobs.

House Speaker Sara Gideon ripped LePage in a statement Monday morning. The Democratic leader called the governor’s action “irresponsible and incomprehensible” and said he has cited “no discernable reason” for his action.

“By imperiling $117 million worth of state borrowing unless his petty demands are met, the governor has proven once again that he is more than willing to put Maine people, Maine businesses and Maine’s economy at risk,” Gideon said. “For the sake of our fiscal health, our strong credit and bond ratings and most importantly, our people, I urge the governor to take immediate steps to undo the considerable damage he has caused.”

Senate President Mike Thibodeau said in a written statement that he learned of the development late last week and he is “disappointed in this decision that may put Mainers out of work and adversely impact Maine businesses.”

It’s unclear what LePage wants, if anything. Hayes declined to comment on any reasons LePage articulated for holding up the bonds, which means we can only speculate. However, we’ve been in this position before, with the governor arguing that borrowing isn’t financially prudent and would harm the economy. He has long argued that expanding Maine’s Medicaid program, as mandated by voters in a 2017 referendum, and continuing increases in Maine’s minimum wage, as voters mandated in a 2016 referendum, would deal a double-whammy to the economy. There are bill seeking to accomplish both of those outcomes pending now in the Legislature. LePage could be using the bonds as leverage to try to get his way on those issues, but his staff did not respond Friday or Monday to requests for information about his decision.

Speaking of the Legislature, the House and Senate are expected to convene sometime this morning and probably throughout the day. Both chambers plowed through heaps of what could arguably be called routine business during three days of sessions last week, but left town Thursday evening with some of the biggest items left undone. Still pending is a deal on tax conformity legislation and agreement on another bond package to send to voters — which could be complicated given recent events. Also kicking around is the so-called “errors” bill, the fate of which, among other things, could have major ramifications for the ability of the Maine Ethics Commission to disperse money from the Maine Clean Election Fund after July 1.

The Bangor Daily News will keep you posted on major developments. In the meantime, check out the House and Senate calendars for more about what’s going on today, though the big stuff will likely be added later in supplements and addendums. Our guess is that today’s session will go well into tonight, if not tomorrow morning.

Reading list

  • Stripping away the rhetoric from proponents and detractors, what did Maine learn from its first statewide ranked-choice election? Data, exit polling and analysis show that Democrats and Republicans used the system differently. Campaign strategies built on trying to convince voters to push front-runners down their ballots didn’t work well. And most ballots in the Democratic gubernatorial primary remained in play through the final round. Click here for the details of our analysis.
  • After two children allegedly died at the hands of their caregivers, Maine changed its response system to child abuse reports but did not add workers. The LePage administration has taken some flexibility away from providers contracted to investigate abuse claims in favor of having state child protective workers intervene. But  the administration hasn’t indicated that it plans to add to a staff of child protective workers who had already seen their workloads increase 55 percent between 2010 and 2016
  • A Democrat who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Maine got arrested in Texas. Zak Ringelstein was handcuffed Friday outside an immigration and customs detention center in McAllen, Texas. He was charged with suspicion of criminal trespass — a misdemeanor charge in Texas punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine — but was later released. Ringelstein’s campaign is on an arrest-a-month pace. In May, he and a number of other people were arrested at the Blaine House in Augusta for protesting and refusing to leave.
  • A move to help windjammer businesses stay afloat has roiled the waters in Camden. People who operate day-sailing businesses say a rule change that allows windjammers to offer day trips 15 times per season — up from three — hurts them and was enacted without proper public vetting.

Everyone’s a critic

A delightful new Maine food blog has emerged. Brilliantly titled “Biting the Hand That Feeds,” it offers “a 10-year-old’s critique of the food he is given.”

The 10-year-old is part of a talented family from Auburn. Years ago, his father wrote the best Moxie Festival advance in the history of humankind — for the year when Moxie went medieval.

Following in his father’s footsteps, the young writer opened his most recent review with:

“The meat was bloody. I’m not saying it was spewing blood, mind you, so it was good, nice and chewy. Not tough or raw. Apparently there was garlic and thyme on it, but I didn’t taste any, so that remains a mystery. It tasted salty, and it was juicy, juicy with blood. I’m not saying I’m a vampire, but if I were, this would be very good meat, maybe without the garlic.”

He then launched into an insightful examination of the differences between baby asparagus and “adult” asparagus.

Having a child post reviews of what his parents feed him does not seem like a good strategy to reverse Maine’s downward population spiral. Maybe his siblings talked him into it in hopes of gaining a better seat at the table. In any case, we will savor it while it lasts.

Here is his soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Robert Long. If you’re reading this 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

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.