A political organization that backs Gov. Paul LePage has released a statewide television ad urging lawmakers to back the governor’s plan to repay $484 million in backlogged Medicaid payments to Maine’s hospitals.
The ad also takes a swipe at former Gov. John Baldacci, who has expressed interest in running for governor in 2014. The ad, purchased by Maine People Before Politics, says Baldacci is responsible for the debt, which it claims caused layoffs and jeopardized health care for “seniors and families.”
The Medicaid debt began accumulating years before Baldacci took office in 2003. It has been attributed to a payment system that didn’t keep pace with hospitals’ Medicaid claims to the state.
Baldacci and the Legislature made payments that sent $3.7 billion to hospitals over the last decade, but not enough to erase the debt.
The ad also blasts Baldacci for authorizing a 10-year wholesale liquor contract with Maine Beverage Co.
LePage’s hospital payback plan would use a 10-year bond authorized by the Legislature to pay off the state’s $184 million share of the debt. As soon as the state pays the hospitals, the balance will flow to the state’s 39 hospitals in federal matching funds.
LePage plans to use revenue from a new liquor contract to pay off the bond.
Democratic lawmakers have said they’re committed to paying back the state’s hospitals and have released a counter-proposal that they say would pay the hospitals by September.
The ad underscores the political battle over the hospital debt, an issue that LePage used to great effect when he ran for governor in 2010.
This year the governor raised the issue again, taking his case on the road during a high-profile tour of Lewiston and Auburn. During the tour, the governor spoke from a podium adorned with the state seal with the words “pay our bills” overlapping the traditional “Dirigo.”
Democrats blasted the ad Thursday as a “divisive” stunt to distract attention from LePage’s two-year budget proposal.
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said in a press release that the ads undermine “productive efforts to find common ground on critical issues.”
“The governor is playing politics instead of working with lawmakers to help Maine’s economy,” said Eves.
Baldacci, responding in a press release, said the television spot is “a misleading, political attack ad.”
“Gov. LePage prefers to fight rather than govern,” Baldacci said. “There’s bipartisan agreement on the need to repay the hospitals, but the governor can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.”
The governor should be focused on the state budget, where his plans would raise property taxes, cut education and hurt the economy. It’s so bad, Republicans can’t support it as it is.”
He added, “This type of partisanship and attack politics might get Gov. LePage’s base excited, but it’s no way to govern.”
In a release sent Thursday, Maine People Before Politics said the ad had begun airing statewide. The group did not say how much the ad buy is worth.
The group began as the organization that helped fund the governor’s transition to office. Initially, it disclosed its donors, which included corporations and trade groups such as the Maine Hospital Association.
It’s now unclear how much each organization has given to Maine People Before Politics. The group is a nonprofit organization, so it doesn’t have to fully disclose its donors.
The Maine Democratic Party described the group as a “Super PAC,” a reference to the “dark money” groups that have operated at the national level and attempted to influence elections.
LePage was asked about the ads after a speaking event for Augusta Kiwanis at the Senator Inn. He said he was unaware that the ad was running and looked to his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, for an explanation.
“You know more than I do,” he said to Bennett, laughing. “How come I’m always the last one to know?”
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: