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Business and Economy

Workforce Board Sues Over LePage Decision To Decline $8 Million In Retraining Money

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press/file
Gov. Paul LePage delivers the State of the State address to the Legislature, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, at the State House in Augusta.

One of Maine’s regional workforce boards is suing Gov. Paul LePage and Labor Commissioner John Butera over the state’s decision to turn down about $8 million in federal funds for job training.

In the suit, Coastal Counties Workforce Inc., based in Brunswick, says that LePage and Butera are violating federal law by not making the funds available under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. In a letter last month to the U.S. Department of Labor, LePage said that Maine would no longer participate in a particular section of the act that sends more than $8 million each year to help fund three regional boards for job training and education.

LePage has repeatedly tried to consolidate the three boards into one as a way to reduce costs.

However, Kelly McDonald, a lawyer representing Coastal Counties Workforce, says federal law dictates that once the government makes those funds available to a state, the governor must make them available to local workforce boards.

“Under my reading, the governor has absolutely no discretion whatsoever,” he says. “Once those funds are made available to him, he has to turn around and make them available to workforce groups. And he has failed to do that.”

McDonald says the timing of the lawsuit was partly prompted by a letter from the state Department of Labor to workforce boards on Monday saying that all contracts using the specific workforce funds would end by Nov. 30 at the latest.

Coastal Counties Deputy Director Antoinette Mancusi says she hopes the lawsuit will force the state to reverse that decision and accept the federal funds, as she says ending the programs would affect hundreds of employers and job seekers.

“We’re talking about a really substantial impact to these workers in our region,” she says.

Neither the governor’s office nor the state Department of Labor would comment on pending court cases. However, last week, a spokesperson for the state Department of Labor told Maine Public that the state will work to find other funding sources to help job seekers who are currently receiving training.

The U.S. Department of Labor didn’t respond to a request for comment.