AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative Democrats delivered a letter to Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday alleging that his refusal to allow executive branch employees to testify at committee meetings without his permission is a breach of the Maine Constitution and hinders lawmakers’ ability to make informed decisions that affect Maine.

In a prepared statement, LePage responded that his policy maintains transparency in the legislative process and ensures that employees’ time is used efficiently.

“We write to express frustration with your administration’s unprecedented lack of cooperation with the Legislature,” reads the letter, which was signed by 24 Democratic House and Senate committee chairmen. “In recent weeks, your commissioners and/or legislative liaisons have refused nearly 30 requests to participate in important legislative meetings. … In lieu of in-person communication, you have determined that in-writing communication will suffice. We disagree.”

LePage told reporters on Aug. 14, a day after Democrats on the Appropriations Committee voiced frustration that the commissioners of transportation, health and human services, and finance, as well as the director of Maine Revenue Services, did not show up at a meeting that he has instituted a policy requiring legislative committees to seek his permission if they want to speak to a department head.

“A simple letter to my office, asking who you want to speak with, will work,” said LePage. “That’s all you have to do.”

“I have made no secret of this policy and I will continue this policy because it is a business-like and professional approach to managing the relationship between two separate but equal branches of government,” LePage said in his prepared statement Wednesday afternoon. “The previous relationship resulted in an inefficient use of executive branch resources and was disrespectful of the time and work of commissioners and staff. Furthermore, there was a significant lack of transparency for all Mainers. Mainers deserve access to a more transparent process and a public record between the two branches.”

LePage indicated through his communications staff that he intends to provide a more comprehensive response to the Legislature in writing.

According to information provided by legislative Democrats from the nonpartisan Office of Policy and Legal Analysis, executive branch employees have declined to attend several committee and commission meetings but often offered to respond to questions in writing. Among the committees the Democrats cited as being snubbed by the administration were the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, a temporary committee formed by Democratic leadership at the beginning of this legislative session.

The documents also show that employees of the executive branch did attend some meetings or when they couldn’t, offered to reschedule. LePage highlighted that Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew has spent hours with the Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees in recent weeks and is scheduled to appear before the Appropriations Committee again next week.

However, Democrats said there needs to be more cooperation.

“As chairs of the committees charged with oversight of these crucial policy areas, we have great concern that this lack of cooperation and participation will hurt Maine people,” reads the letter from the Democrats. “It is our responsibility to hold state offices accountable to their mission and to the people of Maine, and to ensure transparency in government and to protect the public interest. If we, as lawmakers sitting on committees of jurisdiction, are unable to obtain current information in critical areas, we will be unable to make informed policy decisions — decisions that are best for our people and for our state.”

LePage said on Aug. 14 that it’s his responsibility to run Maine, not lawmakers’.

“The state is not going to be run by committees. It’s going to be run by the chief executive of the state,” he said.

Democrats countered that LePage has a constitutional obligation to work with the legislative branch.

“According to the Constitution, the Legislature and the governor’s office are equal branches of government that must collaborate and share information to best serve the people we represent,” wrote the Democrats.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.