MHPC Report Raises False Alarms about Maine’s Spending Priorities

MECEP challenges methodology, findings and conclusions; urges the media “to apply a more rigorous standard” to its coverage
Augusta, Maine (Tuesday, December 14, 2010)—The Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) today released a response critical of the methodology, findings and conclusions of the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s (MHPC) recent report “The Fastest Growing General Fund Programs in Maine Government.” 

“Once again, MHPC has issued an irresponsible, muddled package of data labeled as objective analysis,” MECEP Executive Director Christopher St. John said.  “Their goal: to mislead the public and deflect attention away from real issues confronting Maine in this challenging time.  Our response cites specific inaccuracies, distortions, and deceptions in the report.  We encourage Maine’s media watchdogs to apply a more rigorous standard to reporting on this and other instances of MHPC deceptive sensationalism that ill-serves informed debate over critical issues of public policy.”
Co-authored by MECEP Associate Director Garrett Martin and Policy Analyst Connie Zhu, MECEP’s analysis cites specific examples of MHPC inappropriate generalization and data “lumping,” fabricating funding issues out of non-issues, grossly distorting by cherry picking data, and disregarding the purposes and achievements of individual programs. MECEP notes, for example, that one of MHPC’s chief targets, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, has actually reduced its total General Fund expenses by nearly 7 percent while serving 120,000 more people than in 2002.
“MHPC may have succeeded in achieving ‘gotcha’ publicity for ideological propaganda disguised as dispassionate research,” Martin and Zhu write. “But the media and the public deserve to know that this latest report is riddled with inaccuracy, distortion and deception.  Given the high profile role MHPC has assumed with Maine’s Governor-elect and the new Legislature, how the material MHPC produces influences Maine’s tax and budget policies is the real alarm that should be set off for Maine people.”

Other examples MECEP cites include:

Irresponsible generalizing and data “lumping.” MHPC identifies cost increases allocated to the Bureau of Family Independence-Regional account but fails to show that these were offset by decreased costs allocated to other accounts which MHPC chose not to include in the report.

Creating funding issues out of non-issues. MHPC cites cost increases in the Office of Substance Abuse’s Driver Education and Evaluation Programs but fails to note that a) fee revenue has also gone up proportionately and b) the program costs are fully covered by fees and therefore have no net cost to the General Fund.

Disregard of program purposes and achievements.  Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is another of MHPC’s favorite targets for attack.  But MHPC fails to acknowledge that TANF constitutes approximately 1% of the state’s budget and serves about 14,200 families or that basic TANF benefits have not increased since 2001 and remain the lowest in New England, even as costs of heating and rent for households have gone up considerably. 

To read MECEP’s response in its entirety: Where the Money Is (and Isn’t).