“Weeding out authentic waste, fraud, and abuse is a laudable goal, but to overlook hundreds of millions of dollars in lost federal funds, as the MHPC report does, reflects the priorities of the LePage administration—scoring partisan, ideological points at the expense of Maine taxpayers, Maine’s economy, and Maine families, seniors, children and others at risk.”
Commenting on the release of the 2016 edition of Maine Heritage Policy Center’s (MHPC) Piglet Book, CEO Matt Gagnon declared that wasteful government spending is not a partisan issue. Yet the publication itself reads like a menu of Governor LePage’s favorite targets, including House Speaker Mark Eves and Attorney General Janet Mills. It also hones in on petty expenditures by government employees —food, bottled water, transportation—as examples of “pork spending,” but these represent just a tiny fraction of the state’s annual year budget.
On the other hand, as the Portland Press Herald noted:
“Missing from the Maine Heritage Policy Report, however, is any mention of the LePage administration’s decision to hire The Alexander Group for $925,000 to review the state’s welfare programs. The Alexander Group’s work was later discredited after it was discovered that the report contained numerous passages that were lifted from other published reports with limited or no attribution.”
No one wants public money wasted or spent inefficiently, but in its campaign against progressive government initiatives in support of working families, seniors, children, the disabled, and other Mainers at risk, MHPC overlooks missed opportunities in recent years to secure federal funds Congress has made available to the state. As MHPC noted it its report, federal dollars account for more than one-third of state expenditure. Every dollar of federal money the state receives works to boost our economy—in much the same way as the money out-of-state visitors spend. This is increasingly important as Maine faces potential population decline in the coming years.
The LePage administration has repeatedly turned down federal funds available to Maine. For example:
- In 2015, Maine declined to apply for Forest Legacy funding, worth an average of $3 million/year over the last 25 years.
- In 2015, the state refused $2.5 million for Colorectal Cancer Control from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Administration negligence and incompetence have also lost the state millions of dollars of federal funds.
Since 2013, mismanagement at the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta has resulted in the loss of $20 million per year, made worse by the LePage administration’s failure to meet a deadline to appeal that decision. Both patients and taxpayers have suffered as a consequence.
A DHHS effort to crack down on welfare fraud led to long delays and inefficiencies in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (“food stamps”) resulting in the threat of losing $10.2 million per year in federal funding for the program. The state is paying DHHS workers overtime to fix the problem. The total annual compensation for fraud investigators at DHHS already amounts to $900,000. The amount of taxpayer money recovered through welfare fraud prosecutions? $1.2 million in 2015.
But the administration’s biggest missed opportunity is its continued rejection of federal funds for Maine to expand Medicaid access to nearly 70,000 uninsured Mainers , which has cost the state over $700 million since January 2014— a number that increases by $900,000 every day. And that doesn’t include hundreds of millions more in spending to boost the rest of the state economy, and the tens of millions of state tax revenues this spending would generate.
Describing state spending on travel reimbursement for employees as “waste” or blasting particular programs as “failures” are political statements. But losing out on federal money that brings extra dollars into our economy, generates additional spending, protects and creates thousands of jobs, and ultimately helps Mainers improve their health, quality of life, or simply get back on their feet is undeniably a mistake. Weeding out authentic waste, fraud, and abuse is a laudable goal, but to overlook hundreds of millions of dollars in lost federal funds, as the MHPC report does, reflects the priorities of the LePage administration—scoring partisan, ideological points at the expense of Maine taxpayers, Maine’s economy, and Maine families, seniors, children and others at risk.