AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- As he proposed a $100 million bond issue bill for transportation projects Thursday, Maine Gov. Paul LePage turned up the heat on Democrats to move on his plan to pay a Medicaid debt to the state's hospitals.
The Republican governor acknowledged that he was holding millions in already-authorized bonds hostage until legislation is passed to address the $484 million hospital debt.
"People say why are you doing it? You are holding it hostage. Yeah, I'll admit it. It's the only way I can get anything done upstairs" in the Legislature, LePage said. "You got to threaten them. They won't get it done unless I force it."
LePage almost daily pressures the majority Democrats to pass his proposal to pay the hospitals with revenues from future liquor sales. To settle the total debt, the state's share of $186 million would be matched by $298 million in federal money. Lawmakers are reviewing LePage's proposal and one from Democrats but leaders have said they will not rush through a bill.
Democrats criticized LePage for withholding $104 million in bonds already approved by voters that could be released now, ahead of Maine's construction season.
"Dozens of projects around the state are shovel-ready, and the only delay to returning people back to work is the governor," said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond. Democrats said the $104 million would draw federal matches to bring the total investment to $297 million.
Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe said taking bills hostage "is no way to run a state, or a government. It is past time for the governor to stop playing politics, release the bonds approved by voters two years ago, and put thousands of Mainers back to work."
Although saying they were encouraged to see him supporting bonds, Democrats took LePage to task for opposing them in the past due to the cost of debt service, but later proposing his own borrowing. In January, he proposed $100 million in government facilities bonds to build a replacement for the minimum- and medium-security Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Bonds are also part of his hospital repayment plan.
The bonds proposed Thursday by LePage would need a two-thirds legislative majority and voter approval, likely next November, meaning they wouldn't be available until next year's construction season at the earliest.
Of the total, nearly half — $46 million — would go to highway construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation. Bridge repairs and replacements would get $30 million, and $19 million would go to ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation, freight and passenger railroads and other transit systems. The remaining $5 million would go to municipalities and secondary road programs.