Democrats should quit the politics and pay debt to Maine hospitals

11 years ago

Democrats should quit the politics

and pay debt to Maine hospitals

By Rep. Alexander Willette

    It’s a rare occasion when Republicans and Democrats can agree on a big, important piece of legislation that creates jobs and improves the government’s finances. It’s a rare occasion, but it happened in Augusta earlier this spring. We all agreed that we should pay off the state’s massive debt to its hospitals with revenue generated from a renegotiated state liquor contract.

    Unfortunately, Rep. Bob Saucier of Presque Isle and his Democratic friends, however, reneged on that agreement and said they would only pay the hospitals if we could expand the state’s largest welfare program too. That would be fiscally irresponsible and, besides, past welfare expansions caused the hospital debt in the first place.
    That’s like telling your credit card company that you’ll only pay off your enormous bill if they extend your credit.
    In the midst of this obstructionism by Democrats, our hospitals have been laying off workers, delaying construction projects, and borrowing money to keep the doors open. That is unacceptable. Our hospitals provide a valuable service to the community and are some of the largest providers of good-paying jobs in the County. They should be paid the money they are owed with no strings attached.
    The state owes TAMC $12.4 million for Medicaid services rendered. We owe $4.6 million to Cary Medical Center in Caribou, almost $10 million to Houlton Regional Hospital, and $3.86 million to Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent.
    That’s over $30 million that could be pumped into The County’s economy. In all, the state owes hospitals across Maine $484 million in old welfare debt, and they have been crying out, pleading with state government to pay it. Our hospitals have said they would use that money to hire nurses, lift pay and benefits freezes, build new wings, and upgrade equipment. Who knows, they might even improve the food!
    On top of all that, settling this debt would put us in a position to be able to issue bonds that could pump an additional $300 million into Maine’s economy to fix our crumbling roads and bridges. Moody’s, the bond rating agency, recently highlighted our hospital debt as the biggest hindrance to our credit.
    In fact, a recent opinion column from the President of Associated General Contractors of Maine urged Democrats to split the popular hospital debt bill from the controversial welfare expansion bill so that we can get the hospitals paid, get bonds issued, and get builders to work.
    Maine recently received a C minus from the American Society of Civil Engineers for the state of its transportation infrastructure, with one-third of our bridges either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The harsh condition of our roads costs motorists an extra $245 per year in car repair and maintenance. For the sake of our economy, we must get this fixed, but we have to settle our hospital debt first in order to issue the necessary bonds.
    I was disappointed with the Democrats for shunning this bipartisan agreement and choosing to play politics to try to get their way on welfare spending. They combined the welfare expansion bill with the hospital payment bill by ramming them through legislative committees, forcing Republican lawmakers to vote on things before they even got a chance to see them.
    Sadly, Rep. Saucier could have prevented this Washington-style arm-twisting as a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. When Saucier had the chance to show true leadership and make sure TAMC gets paid, he instead broke one of his core promises to the people of his district, which was to work with Republicans in a good-faith, truly bipartisan effort to bring jobs to The County.
    Democrats orchestrated this shameful display of the kind partisan brinksmanship and backroom dealing that created Obamacare years ago. It was the kind of politics that doesn’t belong in Maine, and no representative of the County should condone it.
    I hope that Rep. Saucier and his colleagues will do the right thing and agree to pay off the hospital debt with no strings attached. This issue is still unresolved; the ball is in the Democrats’ court. We need more jobs in the County and less politics in Augusta.
    Rep. Alexander Willette (R-Mapleton) is the assistant Republican leader in the Maine House of Representatives.