Maine governor takes hard-nosed approach to federal shutdown

Reuters

By Dave Sherwood

AUGUSTA, Maine, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Maine Governor PaulLePage, a Republican, took a novel approach to the partialfederal government shutdown instigated by conservative membershis own party, citing it as proof states "cannot count on thefederal government to solve our problems."

LePage last week declared a civil state of emergency inMaine in response to the shutdown - the first and only governorin the country to do so - pointing to the need to take action inthe face of lost federal revenue.

The move, which grants the governor broad powers totemporarily suspend laws and regulations, left opponents uneasyand stood in stark contrast to Maine's more measured Senators,Independent Angus King and Republican Susan Collins, who helpedbroker the deal announced on Wednesday to end the debt crisisand the 16-day shutdown in Washington.

LePage, who enjoys support from the small-government TeaParty faction, has long espoused the need to reduce federalinfluence in Maine, a state dependent on federal grant fundingfor between 39 and 43 percent of its budget, according to astudy by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Nearly 3,000 state employees receive paychecks from thefederal government, the LePage administration said.

Last spring, LePage led Maine to join the ranks of 26 stateswith Republican governors or Republican-controlled legislaturesthat refused added Medicaid funding under the Affordable CareAct, President Obama's signature legislative achievement,claiming the uncertainty of long-term federal funding.

Now, LePage points to the shutdown as proof he was right."As challenging as these times are right now, we must seriouslyquestion how beneficial it is to depend on the federalgovernment for so much," he said in his weekly radio address.

But his declaration of emergency, which allows him totemporarily suspend state laws and regulations, was met withskepticism by Democrats and the state worker's union, whichincludes many furloughed employees.

"Paul LePage is the last person we should trust withunchecked power," said Democratic party chairman Ben Grant.Democrats had called on the governor to specify which laws heplanned to suspend, but LePage refused.

Worker's groups feared the governor, who early in hisadministration made headlines when he removed a muralcelebrating workers from the Department of Labor building, mightwield his declaration to negate collective bargaining rights.

Opposition fears were deepened when Maine political bloggerMike Tipping on Tuesday released a recording in which LePagetold a conservative woman's group that "we exercised the civilemergency, which means that their contract is null and voiduntil after the crisis," a reference to union rights.

Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, a Democrat, said thestatement had done nothing more than "breed skepticism andmistrust."

Shortly after the recording was released, however,LePage announced a breakthrough in negotiations and an agreementwith the Maine State Employees Association over compensation andbenefits during the furlough.

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