Governor Mills, Bonds, and Nursing Homes
Last Monday, the Legislature held its one-day Special Session to consider four bond packages totaling $163 million. This new borrowing would add to the state’s current debt of $7.7 billion.
Rather than engage in negotiations with Republican leaders in the Legislature on bond funding, the strategy of the Governor and Democratic leaders was to try to persuade a handful of Republicans to break with their colleagues and provide the votes they needed.
Hello. I’m State Senator Jeff Timberlake, Assistant Republican Leader in the Maine State Senate.
Simply put, this strategy failed, and now Democrats are angry that Republicans didn’t jump on their bandwagon and Governor Mills’ has resorted to name calling.
Assistant Senate Republican Leader, Jeff Timberlake of Turner serves part of Androscoggin County
Despite being excluded from any negotiations, Republicans voted in favor of $105 million of her proposed $163 million in borrowing. Republicans agreed to almost two thirds of her bond proposal.
The remaining $58 million is anything but an emergency.
A statewide election is already scheduled for March, at which time Maine voters could consider these proposals if the state budget remains sound.
Another major issue reappeared on Monday. This was the governor’s adamant opposition to a bill, passed unanimously through the legislature back in June, with funding that would provide much needed money to Maine’s nursing homes.
Early Monday afternoon, both houses of the Legislature unanimously passed a Joint Order, submitted by Democrats, to recall and fix a mistake the governor made when she refused to sign the bill two months ago.
Instead of working with legislators to fix this important bill, the Governor took the unprecedented step of refusing to comply with a Joint Order of the Legislature to recall a bill from her desk. This action set a very serious and dangerous precedent, just so she could prevent $1.04 million from reaching nursing homes.
Governor Mills says she continues to fight against this bill because it would cause Maine to exceed a federal limit that qualifies Maine for matching federal funds. This is simply not true. First, the state is nowhere near this limit, and second, as the language of the bill explains, state law prohibits DHHS from exceeding it.
The Governor could easily have signed the bill and directed DHHS to stay within the limit as required by state law.
Instead, she now claims that exceeding this limit would have caused Maine to lose $55 million in federal funding. This is also completely untrue. There is no federal law or regulation that gives the federal government the authority to revoke funds when a state exceeds this payment limit.
The Governor also claims that, in her budget, she proposed and secured $8.5 million in state funds to nursing facilities and later directed DHHS to shift another $11 million to cost of living raises for employees. What she does not say, however, is that these two actions are required by law and still only maintain the status quo for wages from the previous two years.
In those two years, seven nursing homes have closed and others are on the brink of bankruptcy. Governor, the status quo is not working.
Governor Mills also says that our effort to help keep more nursing homes from closing is “a political act with no productive goal.” The nursing homes, she says, “are OK.”
We disagree. After seeing many of these critical facilities close in the past two years, it is clear that they are not “OK” and our effort to provide more funding to our elderly and disabled friends, neighbors, and family members is a very productive goal.
The Governor’s refusal to take a serious look at state law and federal regulations is confounding and deeply disappointing.
Despite being excluded from negotiations up until now, Republicans still look forward to working with Democrats on a collaborative approach to addressing the challenges that Maine faces when we return in January.
Again, I am Assistant Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake.
Please have a safe and happy Labor Day.