For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - House Democrats tonight rammed through LD 1546, 87-57, in a late-night vote. The bill merged two initiatives: the popular, bipartisan measure to pay off Maine's welfare debt to its hospitals with a liquor revenue bond and LD 1066, the contentious bill to expand Maine's medical welfare program on the federal government's terms.
The Democratic mega-bill brought bipartisan opposition, with Rep. Stanley Short (D-Pittsfield) voting with Republicans. Democrats rejected Rep. Fredette's amendment to study welfare expansion further on a party-line vote of 88-56.
The vote came after the Health & Human Services (HHS) Committee voted on an unwritten letter encouraging the Veterans & Legal Affairs (VLA) Committee to merge welfare expansion with that committee's liquor contract bill. VLA lawmakers then voted out a bill to expand welfare having had only 24 hours to study the issue. The merged bill received no public hearing. Republican leadership was given no prior notification by Democrats of these committee maneuvers.
"This sets a really bad precedent for the Maine Legislature," said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport. "To take votes on bills without reading them, without public input, and try to coerce the minority party into voting for an obviously contentious issue that's not ready for primetime is unbecoming of Maine's political tradition."
Republican lawmakers rose to speak, emphasizing that they are not opposed to expansion in principle, but that the hospital bill and the welfare expansion bill are on different timetables and should not have been merged in such an underhanded manner. They spoke about the $400 million that welfare expansion is estimated to cost the state's General Fund from 2016 to 2022, and how the current proposal is not the best deal for Maine. Finally, they spoke of the need to study expansion in a bipartisan commission of experts so that the mistakes of past expansions may be avoided.
"What became evident in the floor debate was that the federal government's first offer is a bad deal for Maine," said Assistant House Republican Leader Alexander Willette of Mapleton. "We need timeand we have timeto study welfare expansion and see if there's a good alternative, but we must get the hospitals paid what they're owed immediately so that Mainers can get back to work. It's ironic how Maine Democrats' bill to implement Obamacare's welfare expansion was, like Obamacare itself, born of unread bills, partisan arm-twisting, and late-night votes."
With the hospital debt off the state's books, Governor LePage has said that Maine would be in a position to sell $100 million worth of voter-approved infrastructure and research and development bonds, in addition to $200 million worth of bonds proposed by the Governor to repair transportation infrastructure and build a new state prison.
"There's no doubt that there's going to be a long, political debate about welfare expansion, but Mainers who are out of work shouldn't have to wait for that to take place," added Fredette. "That's why we must pass the jobs initiative that we all agree on and save the contentious issue for further study and discussion. Lawmakers should not be forced to vote under duress, and Mainers should not be forced to wait for the conclusion of political games in order to find work."
Maine House Republicans
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