A Brunswick nonprofit is suing Gov. Paul LePage and Labor Commissioner John Butera for refusing to release over $8 million in federal job training funding for laid-off workers and job seekers across the state. In a lawsuit filed in US District Court this week, Brunswick-based Coastal Counties Workforce Inc. (CCWI) — which provides services to workers in Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties — argues that the LePage administration is violating federal law by refusing to distribute the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) money.

“These funds are used to provide job training services for laid-off workers, low-income adults, struggling young people, as well as other deserving unemployed and underemployed Mainers seeking to enhance their skills and employment opportunities,” said CCWI Deputy Director Antoinette Mancusi in a statement. “Without these funds, CCWI and Maine’s other Workforce Groups will be forced to cease operations by November 30, leaving thousands of Maine’s citizens without the training and workforce development services to which they are entitled.”

She said that CCWI will drop the lawsuit if LePage releases the money. According to CCWI, nearly 50,000 people visited CareerCenters and affiliate offices it serves, and about 16,500 clients received workforce services last year. The lawsuit notes that there are currently 908 workers enrolled in workforce training services that will be harmed if the funding is terminated.

“Governor LePage’s and Commissioner Butera’s actions are particularly harmful to unemployed workers, underemployed workers, and workers who have recently been laid off from paper mills, precision manufacturing firms, and other hard-hit industries across Maine,” Mancusi continued. “Moreover, these federal funds not only help Maine’sworkers, but directly help Maine’s businesses by providing them with trained employees.”

The lawsuit comes as a result of a pissing match between LePage and the Trump administration. Under the current system, Maine counties are divided into three regions, each with its own workforce development organization in charge of receiving and disbursing their share of the federal funds. Those organizations, including CCWI, are overseen by the region’s county commissioners. The theory behind the program is that local boards can better tailor services for the workforce needs of their own local areas. However, Gov. LePage has repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) tried to dissolve the boards so that he can have control over the funding for the entire state. After Trump’s Secretary of Labor, R. Alexander Acosta, informed him in August that his proposal would violate federal law, the governor replied that Maine will no longer participate in the program and told him not to send any more WIOA money.

“The current system is fraught with redundancies and waste, and I have tried for nearly 7 years to reduce overhead and administrative costs so that the funds can go directly to the constituents we are trying to put back to work,” wrote LePage in a letter dated Sept. 7. “I will not continue to participate in a system that wastes money.”

In a follow-up letter retrieved by the Bangor Daily News, Acosta insisted that his department doesn’t have the legal authority to allow LePage to dissolve all of the local boards, but said the law does allow him to consolidate some boards if local officials approve and certain conditions are met. But he warned the governor that if he continues to refuse the funds, some CareerCenters could close. The governor’s press secretary, Julie Rabinowitz, wrote in an email that the office does not comment on pending litigation.

Judge Dismisses Frivolous Lawsuit Against Mills

In other legal news, Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy threw out LePage’s lawsuit against Attorney General Janet Mills last week. Last May, LePage tried to sue Mills for “abuse of power” because she refused to sign on to his briefs in support of President Trump’s controversial immigration executive orders. Judge Murphy wrote that LePage doesn’t have the constitutional authority to demand legal fees from Mills, and that the issue is moot because Trump already replaced the executive orders at the center of the case with new ones.

On her gubernatorial campaign Facebook page, Mills said she was pleased that the courts have “yet again ruled against Paul LePage and his never-ending, unconstitutional attempts to force my office to support his agenda.” But she said she regretted the time and taxpayer money spent on it.