a two hour meeting on Sunday with the state’s budget-writing committee, Governor Paul LePage’s claims of an eleventh-hour crisis in the Department of Health and Human Services were debunked by representatives of his own Administration. The emergency meeting was held in response to letters LePage sent to Legislative leaders about the funding shortage late in the day on Friday.
The Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and the Governor’s top budget writing officer Sawin Millett confirmed that the shortage had already been addressed in a $35.5 million package of changes to the budget presented to the committee last week.
“It seems clear that this was a manufactured crisis. The shortfall at DHHS was covered in the change package we have spent the past week reviewing with Commissioner Millett,” said Senator Dawn Hill, the Senate chair of the committee. “During that time, as late as Friday, the administration gave no sense of urgency, let alone the crisis portrayed by Governor LePage’s letter.”
The Governor took the highly unusual step of attending the Appropriations meeting.
“We are approaching an endpoint with solving the state’s budget and it is not helpful to inject politics into the process. We need to park our politics at the door,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the House chair of the committee. “In the eleven years I’ve served on this committee, I’ve never seen such highly irregular and indirect communication about such serious claims from an administration.”
Rep. Rotundo added, “Our committee has a great track record of solving problems and working together. But we can’t solve problems if we don’t have detailed information and direct communication.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Governor LePage approached the microphone, requesting to speak. In his brief remarks to the committee, he claimed his administration had not been represented–despite the preceding two hours spent with two of his highest ranking budget officials.
“The Governor’s attempt to speak to the committee was out of order,” said Senator Hill, who was chairing the committee at the time. “The committee had come to a good place. There is no room for politics to disrupt the work of this committee in solving the state’s budget issues for the people of Maine.”
The Governor abruptly ended his appearance by saying, “the people of the state of Maine are being played for patsies.”
“The Governor did what he does best: he manufactured a crisis and poured fuel on the fire,” said Assistant Majority Leader Troy Jackson. “Now the committee is going to do what it does best: work together, regardless of party, to address the state’s financial affairs.”