Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Maine - LePage declares state emergency regarding federal shutdown

Posted: 6:30 PM
Updated: 6:34 PM

LePage declares state emergency regarding federal shutdown

The implications are not immediately clear, but the administration said it is needed to minimize the impacts on Maine and its federally funded employees.

By Steve Mistler
Staff Writer
AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage has issued a proclamation declaring a civil emergency because of the federal government shutdown.
click image to enlarge
Gov. Paul LePage
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
Number of Positions identified, as of Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, with some level of Federal Funding:
Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry - 151
Maine Arts Commission - 4
Attorney General - 16
Corrections - 8
Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management - 141
Economic & Community Development - 5
Education - 78
Environmental Protection - 110
Executive Department - 5
Maine Historic Preservation Commission - 5
Maine Human Rights Commission - 7
Health and Human Services - 766
Inland Fisheries & Wildlife - 112
Judicial - 45
Labor - 522
Maine State Library - 13
Marine Resources - 46
Public Safety - 22
Secretary of State - 2
Transportation - 682

Total: 2,740
*This does not include any positions impacted exclusively by cost allocation.
The governor’s office says the action is intended to allow the administration to minimize the financial impact on the state and its federally funded employees. However, officials did not specifically identify how the broadening of LePage’s executive power would be used going forward.
Democratic legislative leaders quickly called on the governor to lay out how he planned to use additional powers that allow him to suspend certain rules or regulations in order to carry out state business.
A civil emergency doesn’t allow LePage any additional spending authority, which is tightly governed by the Maine Constitution.
Carlisle McLean, LePage’s chief legal counsel, said Wednesday that the order wasn’t made in anticipation of “anything that the public isn’t already aware of,” a reference to the accumulating effects of the federal shutdown on state employees and agencies.
McLean said the administration originally believed that the shutdown would be over quickly, but that it “has snowballed beyond what any of us expected.”
Maine and other states are beginning to feel the more impact from the shutdown because operations and staffing are intertwined with federal money. Maine has 2,739 state workers whose positions are either fully or partially federally funded. On Monday, the LePage administration announced 52 temporary layoffs at the Disability Determination Office in Winthrop, in addition to furloughs of four employees in the Department of Health and Human Services and three in the Maine Department of Labor. Last week, 406 technicians in the Maine Army and Air National Guard were furloughed, although most were later recalled.
Officials for the administration wouldn’t say if more furloughs were forthcoming. However, state employees and the administration have been bracing for that possibility.
LePage administration said it was still bound to the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with the state employees union during a civil emergency.
State law grants the governor the authority to declare civil emergency. Such action isn’t unprecedented.
In 2009, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci declared a civil emergency amid an outbreak of a deadly flu virus. The move allowed the state to hire temporary clinicians in a mass vaccination drive. In 1991, Republican Gov. John McKernan declared a civil emergency during a budget dispute that shutdown state government, temporarily putting 10,000 state employees out of work.
States have different laws granting the authority to declare a civil emergency.
Democratic leaders expressed surprise that LePage had used the executive power.
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said “action gives the Governor significant power to suspend any of the state’s laws. We want him to clearly lay out what he intends to do -- which rules, statutes, and laws he intends to suspend. We are calling for transparency, accountability, and collaboration as we move forward.”
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a statement that he hoped the governor would work “toward a calm solution for the workers of Maine.”
“Actions like this are surprising and unsettling for Mainers,” Alfond said.
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport issued a statement praising the action, although he did not elaborate on how it will help. “I commend Governor LePage for taking this decisive and necessary action to ensure that the impact of the federal shutdown on federally-funded state employees and to the state overall may be alleviated.”
Legislative leaders are scheduled to meet with LePage Thursday morning to discuss the civil emergency and its impacts.
“The failure of leadership in Washington, D.C. has resulted in a federal shutdown, preventing the flow of federal money to Maine,” LePage said in the press release announcing the declaration. “Unfortunately, this means that a large number of our federally funded state employees may have to be laid off. The State of Maine simply cannot fill the financial gap created by the prolonged loss of federal dollars. It would be unlawful for the State to ask our federally funded employees to continue to work without having the authority to pay them.”
More than 2,700 state employees are paid, either partially or entirely, by federal funding. LePage sent a letter to all state employees, explaining why the civil emergency is necessary, his office said.

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