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Governor’s Address – Paying It Back

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Much has been made of my promise to veto any bill that arrived on my desk before the Legislature passes my plan to pay the hospitals the half-a-billion dollars we owe them.

Those who object to my plan to pay the hospitals jumped at the chance to call my promise a “threat,” a “veto spree,” “bluster” and a “temper tantrum.” My fellow Mainers, I did not make that promise out of anger, and it didn’t come from a tantrum. I made that promise out of frustration.

I’m frustrated with the kind of politics that has prevented our state from living up to its obligations. I’m frustrated that politics as usual is trying to derail my plan to restructure the state’s liquor business so we can pay our hospitals. I’m frustrated that political opponents would rather vilify me than work to inject hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy.

If we don’t pay our bills—bills we racked up for the much-needed services we demand every day from our state’s biggest employers—then what kind of government are we? A business that allows customers to ignore their bills for years wouldn’t last very long. But that’s what we are doing to our hospitals. We have become their most ungrateful customers, and it is shameful.

This situation has gone on for too many years, and I campaigned to stop it. Well, now I have a plan that will pay back the hospitals, make the state’s liquor business more competitive with New Hampshire, and release millions to pay for clean water, transportation projects and start setting aside money for our depleted rainy day fund.

Under my plan, about $700 million would surge into Maine’s economy – and it could happen for this spring’s construction season.

But politics as usual is threatening to derail that plan, which benefits not only hospital employees and construction workers, but also Maine consumers, small businesses and retailers. To compete with my plan, Democrats have proposed a bill that would essentially extend business as usual with the liquor business.

The Democrats’ deal for the liquor business allowed tens of millions of your dollars to flow out of state every year. Even before the ink was dry, this arrangement was universally decried as a bad deal. Yet they claim they’ll do it right this time.

Even worse, the Democrats have no plan to pay the hospitals. They say they want to use the proceeds from a new liquor contract to pay for some of the hospital debt, to extend entitlement programs, to increase education spending and to use the money any way they see fit. Their new plan sounds like their old plan, and that didn’t work out so well.

So, yes, I am frustrated. And I am passionate. Not angry, but passionate. I know firsthand how tough it is to go without a job, how scary it is to live without a safety net and how chilling it is to pile up bills that cannot be paid. I don’t want any Mainer to have to suffer like that, and I don’t want my state to operate that way.

If we are going to restructure state government and make it affordable and efficient for everyone, if we are going to manage our finances responsibly and run our state like a business so we can help all of our customers—our fellow Mainers—then we must make the tough choices. We must make the right decisions. We cannot play politics, and we cannot wait any longer.

My plan would use a revenue bond of $186 million and federal matching funds of $298 million to pay off the $484 million we now owe our 39 hospitals across the state. Converting the liquor business from a really bad deal for Maine into a very good deal for our taxpayers, consumers and retailers will generate more than enough revenue to pay off the bond.

Legislators can fast track a law about drinking at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and they can pass a law in two days to keep private the names and addresses of concealed carry permit holders.

So they can certainly move forward with a detailed, business-like plan to pay the hospitals, recapture tens of millions of dollars a year from the liquor contract, create and save hundreds of jobs and jumpstart the Maine economy. But politics as usual is threatening to rob us of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

So, yes, I am frustrated, and I am passionate. You should be, too. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, how is not paying your bills good for anybody?

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