There’s a fevered pitch to the activity in the Legislature right now — almost desperation — as Gov. Paul LePage and his Republican majorities in the House and Senate try to jam through a number of highly controversial proposals before the legislative session ends and the fall campaign begins.
As it gets closer to time for lawmakers to go home — especially in an election year — the action gets fast and furious. And the casual observer of Augusta’s many ups and downs can be excused for losing track as all the activity blurs together.
After a while, the budget shortfalls, mistakes and excuses all start to sound alike.
Unfortunately, it’s during this time of year when major changes in state law often get enacted without public scrutiny, public input and with very little public discussion.
While there are usually late bills, this year seems different, more rushed than normal.
Unsure of the prospects for maintaining control of the Legislature, Gov. LePage seems to be trying to fill the boxes on a legislative check list, even if some of the ideas he’s presenting aren’t ready for prime time. He’s pushing hard because he might not get another chance.
And legislators, many of them overwhelmed, aren’t paying close enough attention to the details of proposals that could have long-lasting consequences for the state.
We saw this last year when Republicans forced through a major rewrite of the state’s health insurance regulations. The bill has required numerous fixes and has failed to live up to its billing. Instead of lower costs, it’s actually driven premiums up for many small businesses and families, particularly in rural areas of Maine.
In what is scheduled to be the last days of the legislative session, lawmakers are still dealing with two major budget rewrites. One proposes massive cost shifts onto property taxpayers, major program changes and tax cuts that aren’t paid for, while the other is stalled because the Department of Health and Human Services still hasn’t been able to identify the depth and breadth of a major computer foul-up that has cast doubt on a budget that cruelly eliminated 14,000 from health care coverage.
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