OK, it’s an election year but, still, things are just looking quite strange when it comes to nursing home funding.
First we saw this back and forth:
A day before the Legislature was scheduled to complete its work for the year, Republican Gov. Paul LePage proposed a bill that would have immediately disbursed millions of dollars to nursing homes, which have been underfunded in recent years.
The budget-writing Appropriations Committee worked throughout the night on the last day of session, and was on the verge of passing an amended version of LePage’s bill that would have had the support of both parties. But LePage said he’d veto anything other than his original bill, causing the committee to vote unanimously to kill the bill and go home, rather than engage in a last-minute back-and-forth with the governor.
And now we see yet another swing:
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport and Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau of Winterport sent a letter Tuesday to Alfond and Eves, urging them to reconvene the Legislature to take up LePage’s bill. [source]
What the heck is going on?
1. To some extent this is just a policy disagreement about how to help and pay for increased funding for nursing homes.
[Democratic leader] Eves told reporters Wednesday that several Democrat-led efforts throughout the session already allocated money to the state’s nursing homes. Those efforts will yield $38 million in state and federal funds through the summer of 2017 — with $16 million of that money beginning to flow in July, while the rest will begin to be disbursed a year later.
But, while the governor portrayed nursing homes as a top priority, his refusal to compromise is responsible for nothing passing at the end of the legislative session.
The governor’s statement that he’d veto the bill led “Republican and Democratic legislative leaders” to “ask the Appropriations Committee. . . to vote down” the nursing home bill.
2. LePage’s push for his nursing homes bill stands in start contrast with the significant cuts LePage has proposed in programs for Maine’s elders.
For instance, last year the governor’s proposed budget would have cut a prescription drugs program for the elderly, Meals on Wheels and Alezheimer’s respite services, among others. The Legislature restored those cuts and, when the governor vetoed them, it overrode his veto.
Those cuts would have led to great difficulties. As Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, testified to a legislative committee in March 2013:
A 69 year old woman from Biddeford called SMAA crying because she just received her letter. She said she was a single mother who had worked 40 years in a factory, 45 hours a week to support her two children. She also worked 20 hours a week at Hannaford so worked 7 days a week for 10 years! Now that she is no longer able to work she needs all the help she can get. . . She is frightened and does not know what to do. We cannot help her if she is not entitled to benefits.
LePage’s proposed program cuts would have made it harder for elderly people to stay healthy and stay out of nursing homes.
His proposed cuts to revenue sharing, which would have raised property taxes, would have hit older people hard. Elderly people are far less affected by income taxes than property taxes.
3. And then there’s election year politics, as politicians look at how they’re viewed by different demographic groups.
As a recent poll showed, LePage’s standing among elderly Mainers is not strong.
Over on the far right of this Critical Insights poll, you can see that people who are over 65 support Michaud over LePage by 46-35%, with Cutler garnering 14% support.
(Interestingly, the biggest gap between Michaud and LePage is among women voters, where LePage has support from only 27% of women, 15 percentage points lower than Michaud’s 42% support from women.)
In any case, in a poll showing a very tight race, there is an 11 percentage point advantage for Michaud among elderly people.
If LePage had been willing to compromise on the nursing home bill before the end of the session, he could point to that as a bipartisan achievement.
Instead he refused to compromise and now he and his allies are trying to present the issue as something their party cares about more.
It’s anyone’s guess whether or not the Legislature will come back and change the policy, or if the law will stand and nursing homes get disbursements in a month and a half.
But here’s a cheat sheet for what’s transpired.
The Legislature passed a bill for nursing home funding during the legislative session, followed by:
- a last minute LePage proposal,
- legislative efforts to pass a bill before the session ended, with modifications to the governor’s proposal he didn’t like,
- a veto threat from the governor,
- a bill pulled by bipartisan legislative leaders,
- a unanimous, bipartisan committee vote to kill it,
- the end of the legislative session, and then
- a call from GOP leaders to come back and pass something else.
It looks like there are policy differences and also politics going on.
But surely the back and forth and back is dizzying.