Year of the LePage, part two

Posted Friday, August 17, 2012 in Investigation

Year of the LePage, part two

by Gina Hamilton

House Democratic minority leader Emily Cain got a call today (Friday, 17 August) from Gov. Paul LePage.  According to Cain, the governor had decided to put off his special session until January, when the new Legislature would be seated in any case.  During the new legislative session, he would reveal his now-infamous "secret plan".

Jodi Quintero, her spokeswoman, said:

Rep. Cain spoke briefly with the governor this morning regarding his comments on the special session. He indicated to her that he would not be calling the legislature back in for a special session. He would wait until January to propose his idea. He did not disclose what the topic of the special session would have been. Cain was relieved to hear that the governor had backed away from his secret plan. Following the call, Cain said she was pleased to learn that taxpayer dollars would not be used for potential political gain prior to the election, as was implied by the governor’s initial comments at the GOP fundraiser in Bangor on Tuesday night.

However, within the hour, Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, said:

My understanding is that the governor's conversation with Rep. Cain was a private conversation. What she's put out there is not his recollection of the conversation. It's unfortunate that Rep. Cain went directly to the media and tried to use this to her advantage. Gov. LePage has not ruled out a special session.

If it is true that LePage honestly thought that Cain would keep the conversation 'private', he shows very little sense of how the political process works in this era of ideology.  However, whether there will be a special session or not, and even Republican sources indicate that there will likely not be a special session before the election, new information is emerging about what the "secret plan" that is supposed to rile the Democrats is likely to involve.

A Republican source who asked not to be named said that LePage's "secret plan" was "aggressive" and was aimed to "solve our problems."  The source indicated that it involves the state liquor contract, without which hard liquor cannot be sold in the state of Maine.  This contract is due to be renegotiated in 2013. 

LePage's idea is to use the funds from the liquor contract to pay down hospital debt.  In the past, it has been used for everything from balancing the budget to paying for emergency services.  To make this special arrangement with the hospitals, they had to agree not to have the state negotiate Certificates of Need (CON). 

Most hospitals and medical centers don't like CON anyway, because it limits their own expansion.  In Maine, CON is often used to consolidate services, such as maternity services or specialized heart clinics, in one hospital in a region.  The hospital that is left out is usually not happy about it.

But what CON also does is prevent stand-alone ambulatory care and other for-profit medical businesses in the state, which gives hospitals a much larger share of the medical dollar than they have in other areas of the country.   This may ultimately hurt the hospitals, so they have stuck with CON in a more or less "devil you know" sort of way.  Still, according to the source, they are willing to play ball in order to be paid for MaineCare services already rendered, judging, probably rightly, that the Affordable Care Act will largely do away with the for-profit sector of ambulatory care services in any case.

LePage, according the source, intends to take a much larger share of the liquor contract money for the state, which would increase what consumers pay for liquor.  "This will get passed along and will look for all the world like an increase in the liquor tax, and I have no idea how we'll be able to explain that it isn't a new 'sin' tax," the source said.

The source did not think that a special session would actually be called, even though he said, "Gov. LePage does not expect to have the same advantages in the statehouse after the elections."  The source said that he thought it unlikely to be called "because the state can't afford it."

The source also indicated that LePage somehow believed that the agreement with the hospitals would give him some leverage over Medicaid expansion, but was unsure why the governor believed this.

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