Here’s a question for all you rock-solid supporters of Gov. Paul LePage: At what point did you folks stop caring about wasteful government spending?
Your silence, to put it mildly, has been deafening in recent weeks as one big chunk of change after another has vanished into the fiscal abyss:
We have the $700,000 annual tab for eight new welfare-fraud investigators who, according to Attorney General Janet Mills, have netted a whopping $53,000 in court-ordered restitution from welfare recipients since Jan. 1.
We have the $1.4 million bonus paid last month to Coordinated Transportation Solutions, the Connecticut firm that soon will be out the door because it so badly botched its contract to arrange rides to and from medical appointments for recipients of MaineCare.
And now, just when we thought The Alexander Group’s $925,200 “study” of Maine’s welfare system couldn’t be more of a joke, we have this knee-slapper: Consultant Gary Alexander and his band of welfare warriors, whose credibility went missing months ago, now have a plagiarism problem.
“Yes, there are footnoting problems with the report that escaped our review process, but there was no intention to plagiarize,” Alexander said in an email to the Portland Press Herald late Wednesday. “The report does provide credit to the work of others but unfortunately not in the proper format. We regret the error. We will be resubmitting a corrected report.”
By “the work of others,” he means the Washington D.C.-based Center for Budget Policies and Priorities. The think tank told the Bangor Daily News this week that Alexander lifted extended excerpts directly from its 2011 paper on the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program without making it clear that the words – which in one place run on for almost two pages – were not his.
Alexander did precede the passage with a footnote alluding to the Center for Budget Policies and Priorities. What he should have done at the very least, he now admits, was toss in a couple of quotation marks.
What makes this newly coined case of “LePlagiarism” so amusing, assuming you’re not a LePage loyalist, is that it came at precisely the worst possible time for an administration that was already in full-backpedal mode when it came to all things Gary Alexander.
Touted back in December as a national guru for right-sizing state welfare programs, Alexander has since seen his political stock plummet (see: repeatedly missed deadlines, predictions of ever-increasing poverty in Maine, calculation errors in the tens of millions of dollars … ) to the point where the Department of Health and Human Services released his final (we think) report on May 14 without so much as an “attaboy” from LePage or DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.
(That silence only served to confirm a long-held belief outside LePage Land that Alexander’s no-bid contract never had anything to do with shaping public policy. Rather, it was a blatant misappropriation of state funds to provide official-sounding fodder for the Big Guy’s looming re-election campaign.)
But now, with Alexander caught cutting and pasting like a high school student scrambling to complete an overdue term paper, we have Commissioner Mayhew reluctantly touching his finished product – albeit with a 10-foot pole.
“While we do not excuse errors in the report, we are also concerned that the media and Democrats have chosen to politicize punctuation over policy, instead of evaluating these critical reform recommendations on their merits,” Mayhew said in an email to the Press Herald on Wednesday.
Seriously, Commissioner? You pay a guy almost a million bucks for a report that is dead on arrival, then you learn belatedly that he plagiarized parts of it, and now you’re dismissing any and all criticism of this boondoggle as a partisan plot to “politicize punctuation?” What’s next, a statewide ban on semicolons?
Hilarious as the latest round of damage control may be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the quandary in which LePage’s legendary “38 percent” now find themselves.
They elected LePage, first and foremost, to cut back on all that “out-of-control” state spending. Almost four years later, they stand mute while he feeds their hard-earned tax dollars onto a political inferno that they themselves ignited during the tea party insurrection of 2010.
On Thursday, I made a call to Attorney General Mills to see how Maine’s stepped-up battle against welfare fraud is going, beyond the $53,000 payback so far this year on the state’s $700,000 anti-fraud investment. Mills told me that throughout all of 2013, six of the state’s 17 welfare-fraud investigators failed to bring a single case to her office for prosecution.
Anyone in LePage’s corner wonder how these sleuths are spending their 40 hours a week? Anyone?
Then there’s the $1.4 million – over and above the $2.1 million regular monthly payment – handed over in April to Coordinated Transportation Solutions to arrange MaineCare recipients’ rides to and from their appointments. An almost identical, $1.2 million bonus beefed up the company’s bottom line in February.
Loath as you might be to admit it, even you LePage lovers know Coordinated Transportation Solutions has failed miserably to live up to its end of its 12-month, $28.3 million contracts with the state. Thousands of low-income Mainers have suffered from the company’s stunning incompetence, which leaves more than enough reason to send it packing when its contract expires on June 30.
But pay the contractor an extra $2.6 million in the meantime without a word of explanation as to why it deserves the money? Surely that must rankle those who sent LePage to Augusta to put a cork in just that kind of government largess, am I right? Hello?
And now, in addition to the $925,200 that went to Gary Alexander rather than to Mainers who are struggling to put food on the table, we have a clear-cut case of government-funded plagiarism.
Let’s take a moment to imagine how LePage’s 38 percent would have reacted if the Democrats had been caught at such skulduggery. Spurred on by the far-right Maine Heritage Policy Center and the bomb throwers in the Maine Republican Party, they’d be apoplectic by now, demanding the removal of anyone and everyone responsible for this violation of the public trust.
So go ahead and surprise us, LePage supporters. For once, take an honest look at the man who can do no wrong. Prove that you understand the difference between true fiscal conservatism and willful ignorance.
Amazing. I think I just heard a pin drop.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: