Republican Governor of Maine and Tea Party favorite, Paul LePage, angered many residents of the northeast state Thursday when he said that if the legislature did not pass his proposed cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services' budget, he would order a statewide closure of public schools on May 1 of this year.
The Portland Press Herald reports:
The governor on Thursday held a town hall meeting in Lewiston after a day touring the region as part of his 12th Capitol for a Day event.
The Sun Journal reports that LePage, describing the DHHS budget gap as a "runaway train," told the audience that if the Legislature didn't ratify his proposed budget he would be forced to close the state's schools. It's unclear what authority he has to take such a measure.
Many of the questions posed by meeting participants had to do with LePage's proposed Medicaid cuts.
Lee Myles, CEO of St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, said the governor's proposed reductions in Medicaid were a "nuke approach" that would leave thousands of Mainers without health insurance. The Sun Journal reports that Myles said the resulting increased emergency room visits would have a $6 million impact on St. Mary's.
WGME-13 in Maine, added:
As with other town hall meetings a sizable group of those that call themselves Maine's Majority - the 61% of people who didn't vote for the Governor - showed up. While there were no disruptions during the meeting, only debates, some did walk out, frustrated with the Governor's answers.
Those critics, as the Sun Journal reported, were most concerned about his plans for Medicaid and what would happen "to those who would be left without health insurance."
LePage acknowledged that hospitals would see increased emergency room visits. However, he said he was working on a proposal that would require an individual to register with a primary care physician after his first emergency room visit. He added that changes in the state's insurance laws would make private insurance more affordable to some of those who would be left without health care if his budget passes.
The governor also defended the tax-cut package he signed into law last session. While critics said that the cuts benefit the wealthy, LePage stressed the package benefited all Mainers, including about 70,000 of the poorest residents in the state.
"I'm proud of (the tax cuts); I'm not ashamed of it," he said.
He added, "(The tax cuts) have nothing to do with the structural problems the state is facing now."
LePage acknowledged that the cuts would be painful. However, he rejected what he described as "emotional arguments about welfare," which he said, were "inappropriate."
After the meeting, some tried to question LePage's State Treasurer, Bruce Poloquin, about the constitutionality of the move: