UPDATED - Governor says to Paradis, "I don't know what planet you're on." (with video)
FORT KENT - During a workshop at the Fort Kent Senior Center in Fort Kent on Dec. 27 about the effects of proposed changes to Medicaid on the elderly population, Maine Governor Paul LePage said to Judy Paradis of Madawaska, "I don't know what planet you're on."
Cars packed the parking lot outside of the building and lined one side of Pine Street, the access road for the Senior Center. The standing-room only crowd at the Senior Center erupted into "boos" and some cheering after the governor's comment.
LePage was responding to Paradis' assertion that the governor may be biased toward business owners and wealthy people, who are a small percentage of the proportionally elderly and low-income population of northern Maine. Statewide, sixty-five thousand people who are currently on Medicaid are facing removal from Medicaid benefits with the governor's proposed supplemental budget.
LePage said, "...we are broke. We don't take a whole lot of pride in this."
He said, "Come April first, I'm going to have to close schools or close nursing homes."
State representatives who were present to answer questions from the audience included John Martin, who said that the current state budget crisis could be traced back to having fought in two wars without raising taxes. The federal government has cut back on funding to the states, which has contributed to the current budget shortfall.
"We wonder why we have a deficit," he said.
Martin said to those attending, "We will end up with a balanced budget. The [Maine state] constitution is very clear that we will have one at the end of June."
In a phone interview on Dec. 28, Martin said, in terms of absolute numbers, the Maine county the Medicaid cuts would most affect would be Piscataquis County, not Aroostook County. He said Aroostook County was not even in the top three. In terms of percentage of the population, however, Martin was unsure of the exact impact on Aroostook County.
Martin said he asked the administration to request a waiver from the federal government a month or so ago in order to give lawmakers time to develop a plan to deal with the budgetary shortfall. He said the request has yet to be followed through.
"I don't know if [the Governor] was trying to create a crisis to prove a point," said Martin.
With that in mind, explained Martin, it is also true that a problem did exist that legislators needed to fix. According to Martin, the federal government has given the state waivers for the past 20 years, adding to the problem.
"There are only three states, as far as I know, that do it the way we do," he said.
During the workshop, Martin said looking to the resolutions found in other states may provide a possible solution. One such possible answer is to create a boarding home program, which would provide assistance to the elderly population who are unable to meet the requirements for federal medical assistance monies.
Paradis asked the governor, "When you go back to Augusta, think about the people of the St. John Valley when you make decisions... We don't expect miracles. We just want you to do your job."
In an interview before the Dec. 27 workshop, Paradis said, "This is what happens when we don't take care of business in Augusta. It's a created crisis... It's an embarrassment for the people of Maine."
LePage dismissed her during the meeting with the statement,"It would be hell freezes over (sic) before you would ever support a Republican."
In an interview on Dec. 28, Paradis discussed the governor's Republicans-against-the-Democrats approach.
"When you are elected by the people [as governor], you can't take sides," she said.
Paradis is a former state representative, state senator and a Democrat. She chaired the Health and Human Services Committee and served for several years on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee during her tenure in Augusta. She was also recently inducted into the Maine Women's Hall of Fame.
Ross Paradis, also a former state representative, defended his wife publicly at the workshop, saying that he knows what planet she comes from, and it's Earth.
He said, "...I know what country she's from, I know what state she's from, I know what county she's from, I know what home she's from, in fact, I've been married to her for 41 years..."
He asked the governor to apologize to his wife. His request went unanswered.
Shelly Mountain, a member of Occupy Aroostook, twice asked the governor if he would apologize to Paradis.
The governor responded, "I don't feel the need to."
Despite the sometimes contentious nature of the meeting, Republican Representative Bernard Ayotte was pleased with the audience's overall response.
"I thought the meeting went really well. We were able to hear both sides," he said in an interview the following day.
Ayotte said that he felt some people misunderstood the full implications of the governor's statements, however.
"We actually are running out of money," he said.
Ayotte pointed to a statement Martin made during the workshop, claiming that Martin admitted that the Appropriations Committee had not appropriated enough money to "pay the bills."
Representative Peter Edgecomb echoed Ayotte's statements about the state budget in a phone interview Wednesday, saying, "If you are operating a business and you are losing money, you need to cut your losses."
Rather than waiting until April first, when the money runs out, he said the governor was trying to be proactive and to deal with the problem now.
"Maybe there's some legislators that would like to see this happen, to drag their feet, to see the governor [and the Republican Party] fail," he said. "You can understand why the governor was upset that nothing was done before last February."
Edgecomb said that people looking for assistance in other states are attracted to Maine's welfare system and look to relocate here.
"Pretty soon, those who are working won't be able to take care of those who aren't working," he said.
Edgecomb pointed out that the purpose of the workshop was for the governor to hear from the people what services are most valuable and necessary from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Reynold Raymond, CEO of Northern Maine General Hospital in Eagle Lake, addressed state lawmakers at the workshop, including Representatives Ayotte, Ken Theriault, Edgecomb, Alexander Ouellette, Martin and Troy Jackson's proxy, his son Chace Joe Jackson, saying that the proposed budget changes would affect not only the elderly, but also a much larger population in the area. He said the proposed changes would cut $2.5 million from the budget of NMG. It would leave 32 people at NMG without a home, including 16 elderly people, six people with acquired brain injury, and ten nursing home residents. He said the proposed budget would also affect adult case management at the hospital, negatively affecting 80 people through those changes. He also said $1.4 million would be lost from the hospital's budget for wages and benefits, leaving 40 to 50 people who provide the "actual care" without a job. The local economy would lose the difference, $1.1 million, in terms of money spent in the area on things like fuel, food, etc. and would therefore also affect jobs in other fields.
"There's a double-edged sword we have to be very careful of," Raymond said.
The Aroostook Area Agency on Aging sponsored the workshop.