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Governor’s Address: Medicaid expansion and paying home-care workers must be done in a fiscally responsible manner

Medicaid expansion is the law, and I am committed to implement it. But I am forced to veto LD 837. And home care workers need better pay. But I am forced to veto those bills, too.

The Legislature has passed bills to implement Medicaid expansion and reimburse home-care workers, but they did it in a fiscally irresponsible manner. We cannot allow bills to move forward that will harm the economy.

That’s why I have no choice but to veto these bills.

At least $50 million in the first year, and an increasing amount each year is necessary to cover the state’s share of Medicaid expansion costs. The initiative could have included a funding mechanism, but it did not. Funding was left up to the Legislature’s ordinary appropriations process.

After failing to even pass a bill during the ordinary legislative session, the special session produced a hasty, ill-conceived bill drawing upon two unsustainable budget gimmicks.

Legislators want to use one-time money from the state’s tobacco settlement, and they want to divert one-time dollars that are part of the State’s surplus. This will not cover costs on a continuing basis. It’s just another move by Speaker Gideon to look like they’re funding Medicaid expansion. But they aren’t.

The Legislature needs a sustainable method of funding to cover the hundreds of millions of dollars the state will be responsible for in the coming fiscal years. We cannot afford to return to the days of out-of-control spending on Medicaid and a $750 million debt to our hospitals.

There are ways for the Legislature to fund Medicaid expansion in a fiscally responsible manner. So I ask them to recall the bill and fund it properly. Let’s avoid vetoing a bill that otherwise can be funded properly and help all Mainers.

Two other bills I must veto are LDs 924 and 925. These bills provide funding to increase the reimbursement rates for workers who care for the elderly and people with disabilities in their homes or in nursing homes.

I agree that something needs to be done. Our seniors and our people with disabilities need more direct care workers, home health services, and nursing facilities. Rate changes are necessary to attract and keep quality workers to provide care.

Here again leadership wants a short-term fix. I want to fix the underlying conditions that, if not addressed, will hurt the elderly and small businesses and destroy the economy.

The need to increase reimbursement rates is mostly due to the mandated increases in the minimum wage, although some of the need is being driven by the tight labor market – especially in Southern Maine.

The rising minimum wage is decreasing employers’ flexibility in attracting workers. Workers across the pay scale expect the same wage increases as their co-workers earning the minimum. It’s causing employers to cut services and raise prices. It’s forcing elders on fixed incomes to pay these higher prices.

Money to pay workers must come from someplace. This is Economics 101. I agree we need to pay workers more, but we must slow down government-mandated increases. Eleven- and 12-dollar minimum wages will increase the cost of goods and services, hurt our economy, hurt the elderly, and hurt our businesses. But the Speaker ignores the plight of the elderly. She just wants to be re-elected.

They have proved their lack of care with my bill to protect the elderly. My bill prevents municipalities from foreclosing on the tax liens of a senior citizen facing a financial or health crisis and keeping all of the senior’s assets. This is a shameful practice. If we don’t allow banks to kick the elderly out of their homes and keep the proceeds, why should we allow our towns to do it?

But this is the problem. Politicians choose bad policy over what is the right thing to do for the Maine people because they think it’s summer and people have stopped paying attention.

I vow to pay attention to what they do and call them out on it for the rest of my term. And I will remind all our elderly right through the November election.

Thank you for listening and have a good Fourth of July.

Paul LePage

Governor

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