LEWISTON –Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday he will close schools on April 1 if the Legislature doesn’t act quickly to plug a $221 million hole in the Department of Health and Human Services budget.
He urged residents to call their legislators “to tell them to get going” on his proposal, saying time is of the essence.
“A lot of Democrats still think we’re fooling around and making political hay here,” he said during a town hall meeting in Lewiston. “If I do nothing, on April 1 it’s catastrophe for the state of Maine.”
Administration officials have said the state’s Medicaid fund will be out of money by April 1. LePage’s comments about closing schools came as tensions continue to mount at the State House while lawmakers try to find a solution to the budget shortfall.
While the Appropriations Committee agreed on a few small items earlier this week, the major items have yet to be resolved.
“We can’t trust his numbers,” Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said after the town hall. “It’s hard to be able to trust the numbers when they just don’t add up.”
LePage’s comments came in response to a question from an audience member who said he felt Democrats were stalling during deliberations over cuts that would result in 65,000 Mainers losing Medicaid coverage.
LePage said the cuts are necessary because the state is out of money.
He said of those who don’t believe his numbers, “either they are being dishonest to the Maine people or they can’t count.”
LePage said Republicans are on board with his plan and he’s been assured by GOP leaders that they will get support from Democrats to get the budget passed by the end of the month. That’s important so the cuts can take effect in time to save the money by April.
LePage returned to his hometown Thursday night for a town hall meeting where about 150 people gathered in the culinary arts center at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center for his 12th Capitol for a Day town hall. The room was a mix of supporters and opponents with questions coming from the Maine People’s Alliance, which has opposed the human services cuts, and those who approve of the governor’s performance.
One man yelled at a hospital executive to cut his own salary as he was asking the governor about the wisdom of his welfare cuts.
Many in the crowd clapped when a LePage supporter asked whether he or the Legislature had any power to fire Maine State Housing Authority Director Dale McCormick. In recent months, Treasurer Bruce Poliquin has questioned the cost of housing backed by the authority. Poliquin said there’s legislation pending that would require the director to report to the board, which is appointed by the governor.
“I’m very concerned about what I’ve seen there during the last year,” Poliquin said.
While Poliquin, who in recent days has come under fire for conducting business activities while serving as treasurer, participated in the panel, he refused to answer questions from reporters as he entered the technical center.
Poliquin recently appeared before the Phippsburg Planning Board seeking to expand allowable uses for the Popham Beach Club, which he owns. Neighbors opposed the expanded year-round uses, but the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen approved Poliquin’s request.
Earlier this week, Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, sent a letter to the attorney general’s office asking whether Poliquin could continue to run businesses in the private sector while serving as treasurer.
Susan Cover — 620-7015