AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage went on the offensive against U.S. Sen. George Mitchell on Friday after the former Democratic majority leader defended the votes that Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King cast against the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The Republican governor issued a statement blaming King, an independent who served as governor from 1994 to 2002, for a $1 billion state budget deficit that LePage said he inherited when he took office in 2011.
LePage’s statement omitted the fact Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, served for eight years after King and was LePage’s immediate predecessor.
“I am the one who had to clean up the financial disaster Sen. King left as governor, including his $1 billion structural gap and Medicaid expansion that resulted in a $750 million debt to Maine’s community hospitals,” LePage said.
The governor’s criticism came a day after Mitchell issued a statement in support of King and Collins and critical of LePage, who penned a guest editorial in the Wall Street Journal attacking King and Collins.
Besides skipping over the fact that Baldacci served as governor between him and King, LePage also had some of his numbers wrong, blaming King for a $1 billion budget gap. The actual budget gap he inherited from Baldacci was $800 million, while Baldacci in 2003 inherited a $1.3 billion shortfall from King.
King and Baldacci served as governor during two of the largest national economic downturns in U.S. history, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.
LePage also criticized Mitchell, King and Collins for participating in federally funded health insurance plans.
“Senators Collins, King and Mitchell are three peas in a pod, preaching to struggling Maine citizens from the polished corridors of Washington, D.C. while they enjoy luxurious health care benefits lavished on them as members of the world’s most exclusive club,” LePage said.
LePage made no mention of his own taxpayer-funded health insurance plan, which costs the state $15,809 a year.
In an email to the Press Herald on Friday, Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, clarified some of the governor’s statement on the budget gap he said he had inherited from King.
“The growth of state spending under King and the subsequent burst of the dot com bubble bursting, the crash of the telecoms, and the economic slowdown post 9/11 all contributed to the massive structural gap that Baldacci inherited,” Steele wrote.
News accounts of King’s administration document years when the state saw large budget surpluses. The accounts also detail how King, as an independent, was frequently at odds with the Legislature, where Republicans pushed to use surplus revenue to lower taxes and Democrats sought funding for new state programs.
King issued a short statement Friday responding to LePage’s latest barrage against him and Collins. King said he believes Maine people are behind him and Collins, a Republican and the senior U.S. senator from Maine.
“We’ve addressed this issue at length,” King said. “It’s time to make constructive improvements to the American health care system that the overwhelming number of people in Maine I’ve heard from want.”
Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, also responded Friday.
“Sen. Collins has made clear that the ACA has serious flaws,” Clark wrote in an email to the Press Herald. “Under the current system, too many Americans face skyrocketing premiums, unaffordable deductibles, and diminishing choices. Unfortunately, the alternatives considered by the Senate would have made matters worse.”
LePage has repeatedly mused about running against either Collins or King, but he has not taken a definitive position.
Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at: