Special session pipe dream

He’s like a gnat, that governor of ours. Buzzing around our ears, landing in our hair, and no amount of swatting and arm-waving discourages him.

Apparently his Scottish granny neglected to tell him that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. He is constitutionally unable to make a point without attaching a ration of venom to it. His veto messages are fraught with hostility. Rather than simply disagreeing, he must heap derision upon the heads of the misguided souls who pass unacceptable laws.

Even when he is trying to persuade legislators to his side, he does so with bait in one hand and a club in the other. In a letter to the presiding officers, he urged the legislature to return to Augusta for a special session to address bills that were passed but not adequately funded.

The letter drips with sarcasm. Of an unfunded feasibility study on “paramedicine services” he noted: “I doubt we’ll be able to get anyone to do that for free.” He calls another bill’s funding “a gimmick” and talks about the counties having “their hands out for nearly $5 million in cost overruns,” “arbitrary wage increases” for state mental health employees, and legislators “who are trying to score political points with constituents” with the “basest political pandering.”

How is it that Gov. LePage can then say, apparently without irony, “I hope you’ll agree to convene prior … to July 1, 2016.” Truth be known, the governor has a point. The legislature has a long history of fishy funding that enables it to pass legislation with only the flimsiest of plans to pay for it. Requiring a department to take on new responsibilities “within existing resources” is a favorite.

Vague references to “certain budget resources” within the Department of Health and Human Services, stripping off a fiscal note, shuffling money from account to account and working stopgap rather than following a carefully thought out plan are all practices in which the legislature has engaged.

So, one has to sympathize with some of the governor’s frustration. It just seems that if he took a more collegial approach, or at least a less insulting one, he might make more headway.

His letter urging a special session has a mysterious lack of coherence. (It can be found on his maine.gov website page.) It begins by saying he has “issued an executive order directing the DHHS and the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to do the following,” but that declaration is followed by an elucidation of the four bills he is contesting, minus any directives to the departments. The list of executive orders on his website indicates no such orders.

The first page ends mid-sentence, and the bill-bashing resumes on the next. The letter concludes with the governor making his case for why “correcting these budget gimmicks constitutes an ‘extraordinary occasion’ and the Legislature should be convened.”

Not going to happen. The legislature already missed the governor’s July 1 deadline. A special session costs over $40,000 per day. Mind you, the governor only urged the legislature to convene, he did not officially call for a special session.

The legislature may convene a special session at the call of the presiding officers (president of the Senate, speaker of the House) “with the consent of a majority of the members of the legislature of each political party … .” As for a governor, he may, “on extraordinary occasions, convene the legislature … .” The constitution gives no hint as to what would constitute an extraordinary occasion.

Legislative leaders would have to agree that funding for these four bills constitutes an emergency – it does not – and that a solution could be found in a day or two – it could not. After all, they wrestled with all this during the regular session and could only come up with a series of workarounds.

So is the governor right in objecting to these bills? Probably, mostly. Will there be a special session? ‘Tain’t likely.

There is another matter on which the governor holds the high ground. He would like to ban the use of welfare benefits to purchase soda and junk food. Democrats object. He would need a federal waiver to do it, and the feds are disinclined to grant one.

Yet his proposal resonates with the populace. Mainers are happy to help those in need, but making sure everyone has something to eat is a far cry from making sure everyone has a soda. Not only that, the astonishing rate of soda consumption perpetuates the obesity epidemic in our state. Soda has zero nutritional value. Water is free. Why the defense of soda?

As for junk food, a case is made that these carbohydrate-laden choices are the only affordable ones for those in need of benefits. If that is true, there may be other ways of improving diets without subsidizing junk food.

It is the tragedy of this executive’s tenure that he has remained bellicose throughout, never reaching the understanding that a different tone could lead to substantially more progress toward his goals. Reaching some of those goals could be good for the state, but we’ll never know.

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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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