Politics

June 17, 2013

State House Notebook: LePage 'cordial' in talks on key bills

While public bickering remains intense, he shows restraint in meetings with House and Senate leaders.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

So much for the "cloud of blind hatred."

On Friday morning, Gov. Paul LePage summoned Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, to his office to discuss two big-ticket bills: Medicaid expansion and a $6.3 billion two-year state budget.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature sent both to the governor's desk late Thursday evening after a whirlwind of activity. By Friday morning the governor wanted to talk about it.

And get this: They did. They talked.

Nobody yelled (that happens -- a lot). No fist-pounding (that, too). Nobody stormed out (yup).

A spokeswoman for Eves said the meeting was "cordial." Alfond said it was "an adult conversation."

According to Alfond, that's three decent meetings in a row.

"Literally, each time we meet with the governor, he realizes more and more that we're one branch of government, he's another branch of government," Alfond said. "He offers suggestions, puts things on the table. We react, we offer different things."

Alfond said it's been "a nice progression" from where the two leaders and the governor began their relationship. That's because they didn't have one.

Still, the public bickering is no less intense.

Just two days earlier LePage had a harsh assessment of the Democratic leaders, and vice versa. On Wednesday, Alfond and Eves both said the governor was irresponsible and determined to close state government because he told WCSH-6 that a shutdown would be less painful than signing the bipartisan budget compromise.

LePage also said this: "I thought that two years ago we were on the right track. Now -- right now it's this. There's a cloud of blind hatred coming from the third floor, from a couple of people. And I don't play that kind of politics."

LePage was referring to Alfond and Eves, whose offices are on the third floor of the State House.

WILL HE, WON'T HE?

LePage reaffirmed his commitment to take the full 10 days he's allowed by law to either sign or veto the budget. Since the governor has expressed so much displeasure with the plan drafted by lawmakers, Eves has urged him to veto it right away so the Legislature can get on with the business of overriding him.

That's not likely to happen. The budget hit his desk Thursday, meaning he has until June 23.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn June 19, which means lawmakers will likely recess after finishing work next week and come back to deal with the governor's veto.

AND THE TV SAYS

The governor's infamous 46-inch flat-screen TV has become its own entity, kind of like Hal 9000, the computer in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

On Thursday, as lawmakers were pushing through the bipartisan budget, the message on LePage's TV flashed, somewhat furiously, "No new taxes!"

As "Odyssey" fans will recall, Hal was more polite, even while killing off his human crew: "This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it."

SPENDING SPREE

The governor had a special message for legislators on Friday regarding the budget, and he used an article in the Portland Press Herald to make his point.

The story referenced was about how teachers in the Portland School District went on what LePage described as an "eleventh-hour spending spree" to burn through a $1.2 million surplus to buy supplies and other items before the end of the budget year. The district said the move is an annual ritual because it can't carry over a surplus into the next year and instead must dump the extra money into the city's general fund.

The governor saw it differently. LePage said the district repeatedly came to Augusta to "ask for money," and yet, when confronted with a surplus, spent it rather than invest in "long-term educational programs."

(Continued on page 2)

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