When I was first elected to the Legislature, someone gave me some good advice: Look at every issue on its own merits. That is advice I have always followed.
The other philosophy that has guided me is that grudges, horse-trading and other political games have no place at the Maine State House.
This is why I have such a problem with Gov. Paul LePage’s convoluted plan to link the state’s wholesale liquor business, the final debt payment to Maine hospitals and the release of voter-approved bonds.
Paying off the rest of the hospital debt should — and is — a top priority. It should not, however, be a condition for making progress in other areas, such as supporting our public schools, protecting our property-tax payers or growing our economy.
We also need to make sure we get the best deal possible for Maine when it comes to such a valuable asset as the liquor contract.
The governor has tied his liquor contract-hospital debt plan to the release of bonds that already should be boosting our economy and creating jobs. He has taken the bonds hostage and demanded his ransom: an ultimatum that nothing else gets done until he gets his way.
Even before I was elected, I recognized the value of our local hospital in Skowhegan and its importance as an employer and key community resource. My two children were born there. My son got his first stitches in the emergency room. My friends and neighbors make their livelihoods there.
Over the five years, I have served in the House, I have supported our hospital. I have pushed for payments to lower debt to the hospital, worked to protect small rural hospitals like our own and defended the Medicaid reimbursement rate from cuts proposed by the governor.
One of the most important issues for our hospital is its federal designation as a “critical access hospital.” Medicaid reimbursement rates are protected for hospitals with this designation so they won’t be under undue financial pressure that ultimately could lead to their closure.
I have fought every proposal by LePage to lower our hospital’s Medicaid rates.
Democrats are committed to paying the debt to hospitals. On his first day in office, in 2003, Gov. John Baldacci inherited 11 years of unpaid debt. Over three administrations — two under an independent and one under a Republican — the state would not pay the money owed to hospitals.
What a change we have seen since then. Maine has been steadily and increasingly paying the debt. Over the past decade, Maine has paid the hospitals more than $3.7 billion for debt and current services.
Democrats led the charge to change the payment system so debt to hospitals would not continue to accrue. This pay-as-you-go approach was passed in 2009, before LePage took office. The change was fully implemented in 2010.
This important history helps explain why LePage’s ultimatum is so problematic. His narrative of the hospital debt conveniently overlooks the facts and the progress made because of Democratic efforts.
Now he is engaging in do-nothing politics to push through his ill-conceived plan for the hospital debt.
He has irrationally threatened to halt the work of the Legislature by abusing his veto power.
He is sitting on bonds that should be benefitting our economy. They should be improving our roads and bridges, revitalizing our downtowns, supporting our institutions of higher education and promoting conservation efforts. These are bipartisan bond packages that won two-thirds votes in both chambers of the Legislature before they were sent to and approved by voters.
He is disrespecting the will of voters who want these investments in our economy and our future. They spoke clearly when they approved these bonds in 2010 and 2012.
For some of these bonds, it’s been more than 1,000 days since the people of Maine said yes to investing in our state. The governor, however, is ignoring the will of the people and opting to play Washington-style do-nothing politics.
We cannot squander the opportunities that these bonds represent. In some cases, we could be taking advantage of a 5-to-1 federal match. One analysis, by Moody’s Analytics, estimates that every dollar spent on infrastructure generates $1.44 in economic output.
Spring is almost here. These stalled projects should be putting out request for bids soon. We can’t afford to miss out on this construction season and the jobs that would put Mainers back to work.
Communities like ours are waiting for the investment they deserve and expect. The governor must start listening to the will of the voters.
Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe is a Democrat from Skowhegan.