Maine is the most welfare-dependent state in the nation, according to a report released today by the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

The conservative think tank and advocacy group said dependence skyrocketed during the Baldacci administration, with enrollment and spending growing by 70 percent. At the same time, it said, Maine’s poverty level remained relatively flat.

“Today, one in three Mainers is on some form of welfare,” said Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the group and an author of the report.

He said the group included the list of programs, including food stamps, MaineCare health insurance and heating assistance, defined as welfare by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

The group said the next governor and Legislature need to overhaul and simplify the complex system to reduce enrollment and encourage independence.

“Maine has a welfare system that is designed for dependence,” Bragdon said. “We need to focus the resources we have on the truly needy.”

The group is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates, Bragdon said. Its report does point to many of the same concerns raised during the campaign by Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, the Republican candidate. But, it also raises new issues that the group hopes will be discussed by political leaders, Bragdon said.

The 28-page report is posted at www.mainefreedomforum.com.

Maine’s Department of Human Services, meanwhile, has posted data on its website www.maine.gov/dhhs/realfacts/ that counters some of the recurring criticisms of Maine’s welfare system.

DHHS says, for example, that the state has strict eligibility requirements, a low rate of fraud and a high percentage of people who leave welfare and then keep working. It also says the system does encourage independence, and that 85 percent of families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) leave the program within two years.