Democrats Respond To LePage Plan To Pay MaineCare Debt To Hospitals 

Tuesday in Portland, Governor LePage outlined his plan to pay back $484 million to Maine’s hospitals for unpaid MaineCare bills. LePage wants to secure a $186 million bond using future state liquor revenues. The bond would trigger almost $300 million in matching federal funds. The governor said once the hospitals are paid back, he’ll release more than $100 million in voter approved bonds. LePage said that with the hospital debt paid off Maine’s credit rating will be much improved, which means the state would get a much better interest rate on those bonds.Wednesday, Democratic leaders question the governor’s plan. “It’s very thin on details,” said Senate President Justin Alfond. “The proposal for the state to take over the liquor contract seems very aggressive, with the details that we’ve seen, to double the revenue from one year to the next seems very, very aggressive.”Speaker of the House Mark Eves says any discussion of new state revenue, like the state liquor revenue, must be talked about in the context of the governor’s budget proposal, not just simply paying off the hospitals. Democrats call the LePage biennial budget a giant tax shift onto property owners and municipalities. “It hurts our economy. It crushes the middle class and we need to make sure, whenever we’re talking about new revenue, we need to prioritize that in a way that is fair and equitable. Paying back the hospitals is an important thing for Democrats,” Eves said Wednesday. Officials in cities like Skowhegan and Waterville say the governors budget could force them to find nearly $2 million dollars in cuts. “We need to make sure we do pay the hospitals back, but we need to make sure that we’re doing that in a fiscally responsible way, given the governors proposal to shift taxes onto the middle class,” Eves said.At Wednesday’s press briefing, Democrats floated a few ideas of their own. “One being just renewing with Maine Beverage for another ten years, making sure we get the best contract for Maine taxpayers,” Alfond said. “The second put out an RFP. That’s what the Appropriations Committee said we should be doing, put out an RFP. Let it be competitive. Lets put it out there and see who really wants to bid on this contract. Third, potentially we sell the liquor asset entirely, and see what that could generate for e state.” Republicans quickly came to the defense of the governor, saying the time to pay back the hospitals is now, with the percentage of federal matching funds dwindling every year. “Those are services that were provided years ago. We owe the money, the numbers are audited, and we have a chance now to pay it off mostly with federal dollars. If we wait any longer, those federal dollars will shrink,” Augusta Republican Roger Katz said, adding, “What kind of message does it send to anyone that wants to do business with the state of Maine if we don’t pay our bills?”LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett attended the Democrats’ press conference and pointed out the Democrats were quick to poke holes in the LePage plan, but they haven’t proposed a better solution to pay off the hospitals. “They want to have a plan in place to pay off the hospitals, but they don’t have one,” Bennett said. “This is the most logical, this is the most responsible approach. We’re paying off our bills. These bills are dating back to 2009.”LePage’s proposal is in the hands of the legislature and the Democrats in charge say they’ll look at all options. “The governor’s option is one. If we can find out more information, get more details, I’m sure we will, and if that’s the right approach, I’m sure Democrats will get behind it,” Alfond said. “Because we want to pay back our hospitals, but if it’s not the right approach, there are many other options for Mainers and for us to look at.”