Politics & Other Mistakes: The bill comes due

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Even on those rare occasions when he’s being sort of reasonable, Republican Gov. Paul LePage somehow manages to come off as totally unreasonable.

It’s a talent.

Take Medicaid expansion for example. Voters approved it in referendum in early November by a substantial margin, a stunning rebuke to LePage, who had vetoed similar measures five times. A less strident personality might have conceded that it was time to open negotiations on how best to implement the law.

But that ain’t the LePage way.

The guv issued a defiant statement: “Credit agencies are predicting that this fiscally irresponsible Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine’s budget. Therefore, my administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels (the Department of Health and Human Services) has calculated, and I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled.”

As was undoubtedly intended by LePage, this mini-rant was interpreted by Democrats and other excitable opponents as indicating he’d defy the will of the voters and refuse to implement the law. Predictably, angst, outrage and threats of lawsuits ensued.

But LePage didn’t quite say what they claimed he said. If you run his statement through a digital de-antagonizer, thereby rendering it in language more appropriate for Bruce Banner than the Incredible Hulk, here’s what you get:

“Jeez, this thing might cost us $54 million a year, so to be fiscally responsible, we’ve got to figure out where that’s going to come from. You know the votes aren’t there in the Legislature to raise taxes, raid our emergency funds or cut other social service programs. So, let’s get together and discuss where else we might be able to find that money.”

OK, that last sentence is even more of a fabrication than the rest of this fantasy. LePage never negotiates stuff like this. His preferred method of dealing with difficult issues is to shift responsibility to other people, while he devotes his time to sulking.

That’s childish, but it doesn’t change the governor’s essential point: The state can’t expand Medicaid unless it finds the money to pay its share of the cost. But that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. Democrats were well aware of that annual price tag when they were campaigning for the referendum question, so they must be prepared to cover this expense.

They wouldn’t have ignored something so obvious, would they?

Uh … yeah, they would.

House Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden, who’s also a candidate for Congress in the 2nd District, went on WGAN radio right after the election and was asked the obvious question: How are you going to pay for this? Golden sounded as if that concept was sort of alien.

“There’s money available right now,” he said, claiming the state would run a big surplus this year, although even if that’s true, the money wouldn’t be “available right now.”

Golden hastily shifted ground. “I don’t think it’s a question of whether or not we can afford to do it,” he said. “We certainly can.”

Because saying that makes it so.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett was on WGAN shortly thereafter. He, too, hadn’t done his homework. Pressed as to where the cash was going to come from, he went all squishy. “The Legislature has said five times we can afford this,” Bartlett tried.

The Legislature says lots of stupid things.

“This is not a huge part of the budget,” he offered. “This is a tiny piece.”

So is an O ring, but try running your space shuttle without it.

Finally, Bartlett conceded, “So, you look at the rainy day fund.”

For the record, the rainy day fund, the state’s emergency stash of cash to be used in the event of a recession or other disaster, contains less than $200 million. That won’t cover the cost of this program for even four years.

Don’t get me wrong. I voted to expand Medicaid. I think it will keep rural hospitals in business and provide health care to 70,000 additional people, thanks to a huge infusion of federal money. But each year, the state has to pay its share, too, and that requires a reliable funding source. Democrats need to deliver on the difficult part of their promise by finding one.

LePage and I both demand it.

I just say it in a more reasonable way.

Which isn’t too difficult.

Nigerian princes email me all the time at aldiamon@herniahill.net. You can, too.

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