Republicans Accuse Democrats Of Stalling Hospital Repayment And Costing Maine Jobs 

One day after a Farmington hospital laid off 40 workers partly due to being stiffed by the state, Republicans are calling on Democrats to pass Governor LePage’s plan that would pay all Maine hospitals in full.Franklin Memorial Hospital announced the layoffs saying the state owes them $15.4 million in unpaid MaineCare bills. LePage’s plan would use revenue from the state’s liquor contract to pay back $484 million worth of MaineCare debt owed to hospitals. In 2004, the state sold its liquor contract to the privately owned Maine Beverage Company for $150 million. Over the past decade that contract has generated well over $300 million, leaving Maine taxpayers coming up short by millions. “At that point in time, a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature simply wanted to plug a hole. And that’s not what we need to do with this,” said Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette. “We need to be strategic. We need to be thoughtful on how we can maximize the use of this money.”The contract expires next year and Democrats and Republicans have different ideas on what to do with it next and, perhaps more importantly, how the state should spend the hundreds of millions of dollars the liquor contract will likely generate.Last month Governor LePage put forward a plan that would use that money to pay off the state’s hospital debt in full, but the Democrats balked. This week Republicans accused Democrats of stalling on the governor’s plan, costing Mainers jobs. Republicans say the governor’s plan was referred to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee back on February 12 and still no date has been set for a public hearing. In that same time Republicans say other bills they consider far less important have been placed ahead of the governor’s bill. Wednesday, Representative Barry Hobbins introduced LD 216, “An Act To Extend the Hours for the Sale of Liquor on Sunday When St. Patrick’s Day is on a Sunday”, to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and a public hearing was scheduled within 24 hours. “The bill to allow liquor sales on Sunday mornings received both a public hearing and an ‘Ought to Pass’ report on Wednesday, while the bill to pay off $500 million in state debt to some of Maine’s largest providers of good-paying jobs sits idly by and Franklin Memorial Hospital lays off 40 people,” said Republican spokesman David Sorensen. Democrats say they’re not stalling on the governor’s plan and have unveiled their idea on how to handle the state’s liquor contract in a bill submitted by Democratic Majority Leader Seth Goodall. Under Goodall’s plan, all bidders must put up a non-refundable $25,000 fee and set guaranteed minimum discounts for agency liquor stores.Bidders for the 10-year contract would select one of two options:* A large up front proposal of $200 million plus an annual payment that would grow each year in addition to a revenue sharing agreement. * Or bidders can put up a smaller up front payment of $20 million, then have a fixed annual payment that would grow each year over the length of the ten years.Under Goodall’s plan, the bidder would also have to explain the minimum guaranteed profit margin they would require. The state sets liquor prices, so the figure would reflect the difference between suppliers and state-mandated prices. The figure is now 36.8%.Goodall said if no qualified bid is received, the current contract could be extended for one year for $34 million. “Bidders are going to sharpen their pencil. They’re going to be qualified and they’re going to show to the state how much return we can get back. It’s a very clear, it’s a very transparent plan and it will keep the progress that’s been made in the private sector. Most importantly, a better value for the state of Maine,” Goodall said Tuesday. The great divide between Republicans and Democrats lies in where those liquor profits will be spent. Goodall said instead of putting all the money toward the hospital debt, he wants to let the Appropriations Committee split the profits up to fill a plethora of state needs. “As a result of that there will be funds available to pay our bills and make investments. That includes paying back the hospitals,” Goodall said. “We need to do that, but we also have to invest on our kids, our water and sewer as well as our roads and bridges.” Republicans clearly disagree with the Democrats “spread the profits around” philosophy. “To me it reflects a lack of understanding of, really, the crisis situation that we’re in, which is playing a game with the liquor bill,” Fredette said. “People out there are hurting. Hospitals are hurting. They continue to lay people off. They continue to not be able to do capital investments because the Democrats continue to stall this bill which is sitting in committee.”Both plans will face the scrutiny of public hearings in the coming weeks where the choice will be, do we pay our $484 million hospital debt in full or spread the money around. “This is money that’s here we can use it now,” Fredette said. “We can put people to work if the Democrats would simply act.”Goodall said he wants to dispell the notion that Democrats don’t want to pay back the hospitals. He says they do, but they don’t want to be myopic and ignore the many other needs the state has. “The governor and I do have common ground in some of our bidding processes,” Goodall said. “There are differences and we need to have that discussion. But my point is let’s get the best value.”To view Governor LePage’s plan: