Portland, ME

The Hidden Facts of the LePage Years: Part One

Mackenzie Andersen

Government transparency makes a good talking point.

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Arctic Circle, CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Much of the history of the Lepage administration fell under the radar of the mainstream media, so now that LePage has officially announced that he is running to be Maine's first third-term Governor, after unofficially announcing it as he walked out the door at the end of his second term, it is time to shine some light through the shadows engulfing the LePage legacy.

Governor LePage rose to power with the support of Maine's Tea party movement in the 2010 elections. LePage's campaign message was that it is not the role of the government to create jobs but to support private-sector job creation. Paul LePage campaigned on lower taxes and fewer regulations, routing out special interests and purging the state's welfare system of waste and fraud.

Lepage's crowning job-creation act, The Major Business Headquarters Expansion Act, enacted in December 2017 extends Maine's corporate welfare far beyond Maine's geographical borders, to position Maine as a player in the global corporate world order. The Major Business Headquarters Expansion Act lives up to Paul LePage's description as a "transformational" act, and yet it was enacted in remarkable media silence, a silence which continued in the many reviews summing up the LePage administration when his administration came to a close:

In Maine's Pugnacious Governor Leaves Behind A Complex Legacy, Steve Mistler, posting for Maine PublicPolicy.org writes:

He will depart office having rejected over 640 bills - more than the combined totals of all Maine governors by Steve Mitsler for Maine Public,org

From this, we can justifiably conclude that no bills were passed under LePage which were not fully consistent with LePage's policy intentions. It is by examining the bills passed under LePage's administration that we can glean the real purpose, character, and effect of the Lepage administration.

2011 Overwriting the Maine Constitution's Requirements for Bond Referendums with Statutory Law.

Paul LePage's promise of being a constitutionalist was broken in the early years of the LePage administration when an overwrite of the Maine constitutional requirement for accompanying fiscal information with bond questions on the ballot, was enacted as statutory law.

Maine Constitution Article IX Section 14 states what information should be provided to the voter and where it is to be placed: It shall accompany the bond question submitted to the voter. The obvious intent is to make the information accessible to the voter at the time the voter is voting:

....Whenever ratification by the electors is essential to the validity of bonds to be issued on behalf of the State, the question submitted to the electors shall be accompanied by a statement setting forth the total amount of bonds of the State outstanding and unpaid, the total amount of bonds of the State authorized and unissued, and the total amount of bonds of the State contemplated to be issued if the enactment submitted to the electors be ratified....

In 2011 the Maine statute §152. Ratification of bond issue made compliance with the Maine Constitution, Article IX Section 14, optional.

§152. Ratification of bond issue; signed statement
In accordance with the Constitution of Maine, Article IX, section 14, the Treasurer of State shall prepare a signed statement, called the Treasurer's Statement, to accompany any question submitted to the electors for ratification of a bond issue setting forth the total amount of bonds of the State outstanding and unpaid, the total amount of bonds of the State authorized and unissued and the total amount of bonds of the State contemplated to be issued if the enactment submitted to the electors should be ratified. The Treasurer of State shall also set forth in that statement an estimate of costs involved, including explanation of, based on such factors as interest rates that may vary, the interest cost contemplated to be paid on the amount to be issued, the total cost of principal and interest that will be paid at maturity and any other substantive explanatory information relating to the debt of the State as the Treasurer of State considers appropriate. To meet the requirement that the signed statement of the Treasurer of State accompany any ballot question for ratification of a bond issue, the statement may be printed on the ballot or it may be printed as a separate document that is made available to voters as provided in Title 21-A, sections 605-A and 651. [PL 2013, c. 131, §1 (AMD).]

Typically the paragraph begins in such a way to give the impression that the words of the Constitution are being properly executed, until the last part of the last sentence, when the words “or it may be printed as a separate document that is made available to voters as provided in Title 21-A, sections 605-A and 651” are added.

The Sleight of Hand

§651. Furnishing and distribution

2. Election materials distributed and posted.

....... On election day, the clerk or the election officials must post the voter instructional materials described in section 605-A, if applicable to the election, as follows:

A In each voting booth: one voting instruction poster prepared under section 605-A; and [2011, c. 342, §22 (NEW).]

B Outside the guardrail enclosure at each voting place:

(1)-(5)…
(6) One Treasurer's Statement prepared under Title 5, section 152;
(7)…..
(8) One copy of the Office of Fiscal and Program Review's estimate of the fiscal impact prepared under Title 1, section 353. [2011, c. 342, §22(NEW).] [1]

Title 21-A, sections 651 instructs the Treasurer's Statement to be placed "somewhere outside the guardrail enclosure at each voting booth". That can be satisfied by placing the information anywhere except within the enclosed voting area. The point of the legislation is about where the information should not be placed. which is exactly where the Constitution instructs it to be placed. The legislation permits the fiscal information to be placed outside the voting area, where the voter cannot have access to the information while voting.

This tells us that neither the Maine Legislature nor the LePage administration, wanted fiscal information to be transparent to the voter, and deflates another of LePage's promises, that his administration would be the most transparent in state history:

Reconfiguring the State control over the liquor industry to pay down the state hospital debt.

In 2003, The Legislature, under Democratic leadership, returned the liquor industry to the private sector.]with these words:

Title 28-A: LIQUORS Part 1: GENERAL PROVISIONS Chapter 3-A: ADMINISTRATION AND
ORGANIZATION§88.
Transfer of wholesale liquor activities
The Legislature finds that it is in the public interest to seek efficiencies and cost savings from privatizing the State's wholesale liquor business.

Title 28-A: LIQUORS Part 1: GENERAL PROVISIONS Chapter 3-A: ADMINISTRATION AND ORGANIZATION §88. Transfer of wholesale liquor activitiesMaine Statutes / Public Domain

How the Above appears online today. Another change that occurred during the LePage years is that repealed legislation is erased rather than indicated with a strike-through; This change decreases government transparency.

In 2013, at LePage's direction, the legislature reclaimed the state-owned liquor industry with these words

§90. Contract for operations of wholesale liquor activities
1. Statement of purpose. The Legislature finds that it is in the public interest to seek efficiencies and maximize growth in the State’s wholesale spirits business while ensuring that growth in revenue from the business is achieved in a socially responsible manner. The contracting of the operations of the wholesale spirits business should serve this purpose and provide the State’s agency liquor store partners with effective and efficient services in order to responsibly serve consumers of spirits in the State.[ 2013, c. 269, Pt. A, §4 (NEW) .][ 2013, c. 269, Pt. A, §4 (NEW) .]

I located the amended bill that includes all the strikeouts so that one can see what the bill originally said in 2003 and how it was amended in 2013, The 2013 bill uses the term "privatization" to mean the lease of the State-controlled wholesale liquor activities for a large fee, revenue sharing, and sales tax income for the state, while the private company runs the business. The original act included more options as in sale, franchise, license, or lease. Perhaps there were no instances of sales which would make it problematic to take ownership back. The original terms provided for the possibility of one or more territories, The amended version grants an exclusive right to one entity who can subcontract. The intent of the original act was the transfer of the liquor business to the private sector. LePage saw a money-making opportunity in leasing the right to operate the business, rather than transferring ownership. The private entity is still responsible for running the entire operation but the state gets a perpetual cut, kind of like a landlord, or rather a liquor industry lord. One could say this was a smart idea for paying down the hospital debt and also say it is somewhat sleazy. From the point of view of the retailer, only large distributors can make a profit, and other tactics of the state monopoly were quite bully like- such as only taking payment in electronic transfers, and if an account is wrongly debited, not refunding the amount but instead issuing a credit. When the monopoly owner is the state, what can be done? But the text of the bill reads like the State is a good samaritan, existing only to serve others.

While it is true, that this solved a short-term problem of the hospital debt, in so doing it expanded the State's role as a business owner. Consistent with constitutional conservativism philosophy, the role of the state should be limited to enumerated powers. Technically, the State does not run the private business - in that sense, the liquor industry is "privatized", but the State is deriving a passive income from the liquor industry because it can, because it is the state, because it writes the rules of the game, and so the role of government is transformed, incrementally, towards expanding the corporate state.

Today we see the State of Maine seeking to expand upon State-owned business monopolies,

Series to be continued in future posts

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