King, Governor in a faceoff

In this corner, weighing in at 60 books, hundreds of short stories, dozens of movies and over $3 million in annual grants to Mainers, is Stephen King. And in the other corner, weighing in as mayor of one of Maine’s largest cities, general manager of an iconic Maine retail business, and in his fifth year as governor, Paul LePage.

This is a match for the ages, and Stephen King is showing no signs of backing away from the fight. LePage may have finally met his match in the plain-speaking department.

The governor made an unfortunate choice to illustrate his story of Mainers who have abandoned the state for the greener pastures of states without income taxes. The problem is that in King’s case, this horror story isn’t true.

King could not have chosen words more likely to wound a governor so proud of his in-your-face style. “Man up,” King advised the governor, “and apologize.” So far, nothing but silence from the second floor of the State House.

One floor up, the turmoil continues over Senator Michael Willette’s ill-advised Facebook postings denigrating President Obama, Muslims, Hillary Clinton and others. Rachel Talbot of Maine’s NAACP has met with Senate President Mike Thibodeau, but is pressing for another meeting that would include Democratic leaders.

Thibodeau has expressed his willingness to meet with Talbot again, but refuses to accede to her demand that Democrats participate. The D’s are very much on record about the Willette incident. Whether there is anything to be gained by a meeting is a matter of debate. Either way, guests of leadership generally do not get to dictate the terms of meetings.

People have long accused LePage of failures in the fact-checking department; now they have clear evidence. Willette’s comments were beyond the grounds of common decency, and there should be consequences. But don’t we have bigger fish to fry?

Both the biennial budget and supplemental budgets for the current year have shifted to work sessions this week. Most of what the committees heard in public hearings was “no,” “no,” and “hell no!”

Changes to the sales tax? Hate ‘em. Repeal of state municipal revenue sharing? No way. Expanding the sales tax base? Not on my watch.

The trouble is, in order to make further progress on his march toward lowering or eliminating taxes, the governor will have to raise other revenues or make significant, if not drastic, cuts in programs.

That may sound all well and good to the “shrink government” contingent, but when it comes to the specifics of which programs will be cut and what services lost, it can be another story. Efforts to reduce funding for Medicaid reimbursement, Drugs for the Elderly, drug abuse treatment and general assistance are all awash in controversy.

To be sure, the governor couches his proposal in terms of what it will do, not what it won’t. He has included funds for the elderly and disabled (clearing waiting lists for services is one of his biggest priorities), nursing homes, the University of Maine, mental health services, student educational grants and the Maine Maritime Academy.

Substantial money also would go to seven new drug enforcement agent positions, four assistant attorneys general for drug crime prosecution, four new district court judges to hear drug crimes, and 22 new assistant DA positions to speed up cases. At this point in the budget process, however, LePage is getting little credit for his efforts on that side of the balance sheet.

Committee workloads are increasing as more and more bills pour into the system. It’s fish 1, beavers 0 in a bill that would allow removal of beaver dams that obstruct passage of migratory fish. Another win for the fish is the equal-rights-for-koi bill, wherein koi would be added to the list of fish approved for aquariums.

If you would like to join in the call for the protection of young bucks, there’s a bill for you. There is an Act to Create Jobs and Increase Consumer Wine Choice, a win-win for sure.

February was designated Self-Care Month by our Legislature. In what must surely be a first, the legislative Resolve is a paean to over-the-counter medications, credited by the Maine Legislature with saving $102 billion dollars annually in the U.S. ($6-7 dollars saved for every $1 spent on OTC meds).

Our Legislature now officially supports “consumer empowerment through the development of new over-the-counter medicines.” Who knew? Everybody self-medicate! It’s cheaper than real healthcare. March also has its cause; it is Brain Injury Awareness Month.

Legislators have begun to kill bills by unanimous ought-not-to-pass votes in committee (eight last week). Sadly, bills with only one or two yea votes in committee still come to the floor where they can be further belabored prior to being voted down by one or both chambers.

The session is now about halfway through, and the Legislature must try to work its way through the mountain of bills left to process, big and small. As Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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