WESTBROOK (NEWS CENTER Maine)- Maine voters might have thought they decided the matter last year, but the Medicaid expansion debate is becoming the first big issue in this year’s campaign for Governor---and still being led by the man who isn’t on the ballot.
Two days after the Legislature sustained his veto of a bill to fund Medicaid expansion, there are more tough words on the issue from. Gov. Paul LePage. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next week in a lawsuit to force Gov. LePage to implement the law passed by voters. In a radio interview with WVOM, the Governor said he won’t start expansion without funding to pay for it.
“One thing I know is nobody can force me to put the state in red ink,” LePage told hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler. “and I will not do that. So I will go to jail before I will put the state in red ink and if the court tells me I have to it then we will be going to jail.”
Attorney General Janet Mill, who is also the Democratic candidate for Governor to replace LePage, called that “a flip comment about a serious issue.”
She had more criticism for the Governor’s comment that he wants to raise the current tax on hospital incomes to generate money to pay the state’s share of expansion costs. LePage has insisted there must be a long-term source of funding before expansion can start.
“He hasn’t been at the table to identify a long-term funding source,” Mills said. “He’s only complained someone else hasn’t done it. Why won’t he come to the table,. Now he’s talking about taxing hospitals, no one knows where that came from.”
The Governor’s office says he has talked with Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon about increasing Maine’s hospital tax to pay for Medicaid expansion. But the Speaker’s office says there has never been an official proposal to do that.
Meanwhile Republican candidate Shawn Moody is echoing the Governor on the Medicaid issue. A written statement from his office reads:
“As Governor, Shawn Moody will enforce the laws on the books.... Shawn will not risk the fiscal health of the state to expand welfare for non-disabled individuals, and will not support funding welfare by raising taxes, raiding the rainy day fund, or using one-time budget gimmicks.”
Janet Mills said there is money in place to begin expansion, and that finding a long-term funding source can wait until they have the experience to determine full costs of the program.
Aside from the campaign rhetoric, the next scene in the Medicaid drama will play out in the Maine Supreme Court July 18. A lower bourgeois has already ruled the Governor should follow the law passed by voters and take god required steps to implement the expansion.
The July 18 hearing will be on the LePage Administration’s appeal of that ruling.