Wednesday, Governor LePage proclaimed a civil emergency in Maine, allowing him to suspend certain laws and regulations to help manage the impact of the federal shutdown. But the move is being criticized by Democrats, Maine’s Attorney General and the state workers union.
“It is my goal solely to get money in state employees pockets as quickly as possible,” the governor said Thursday morning.
LePage told reporters that by declaring a civil emergency it gives his administration the flexibility to manage a fluid crisis that’s producing very complex problems for state workers. Especially workers working for departments like the Department of Labor which is almost 100% federally funded. LePage says by declaring the civil emergency it allows him to provide unemployment benefits to laid off workers much quicker.
“We have some employees for instance, they’re confidential employees. I was just made aware a few minutes ago that if we’re gonna lay them off, we got to give them 15 days notice. Well, I can give them 15 days notice but they’re not gonna get paid. So rather than do that, we’re gonna lay them off so they can get unemployment in 5 days,” LePage said.
The move also affords the administration more flexibility with unemployment regulations for those laid off state workers who the governor said will go right back to work as soon as the shutdown is over. The proclamation of a civil emergency allows the LePage administration to wave the requirement that state workers have to look for work, which is one of the conditions of unemployment. The moment the shutdown is over the laid off state workers can immediately go back to work.
“I don’t want them to go look for work. We need them. They’re trained and they’re important to us,” LePage said.
Democrats are critical of the move calling it an overreach. They fear the Governor could use his emergency authority to suspend the state’s labor relation law to circumvent the collective bargaining agreement for state workers. Although the governor said he has no intention of doing that, Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Anne Haskell of Portland met with LePage and proposed an amendment asking the administration to be specific about what they intend to do with these new powers.
“To be clear with us as leaders, with the people of Maine in detail, with some level of specificity when this civil emergency would end,” Eves said. “Define the civil emergency and be clear with the people of Maine what his intentions are. That was met with a cold shoulder.”
Haskell attended the meeting due to the absence of Senate President Justin Alfond who is in Ireland at the moment.
House and Senate Republicans were also present at Thursday morning’s meeting with the governor and emerged in full support of the LePage proclamation.
“Governors in the past have done civil proclamations such as this on issues far less important such as the price of diesel fuel. This is a national crisis. So the governor is simply trying to do his job looking at flexibility,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette.
Some LePage critics have called the move an overreach of his powers, a notion Fredette dismissed as “pure politics.” LePage also fired back at that accusation telling his critics to “read the Constitution.”
“It’s an authority the governor has in a state of emergency,” LePage said. “I believe that having 2700 people who work for the state, who depend on federal funds for their paycheck is an emergency. And we don’t have the money. So if that’s an overreach, I overreached.”
The Maine State Employees Association are also among those who have been critical of the decision by the governor. Despite having met with the LePage four times since the shutdown, the state workers union seemed surprised to hear that the governor told reporters his administration will do everything possible to honor the collective bargaining agreement. “If that’s the case, then we appreciate that, quite frankly,” said MSEA Executive Director Chris Quint. “This is news to me. I think my larger point is that this is all news to me right now. As the organization who represents these workers I would have hoped and expected, prior to right now when I’m talking to the press, that I would have that information as to why this has happened.”
With more than 2700 workers potentially affected by the shutdown, LePage says every day this drags on will bring more layoffs.