Welfare reform is an existential threat to liberal politicians. So it’s no surprise big-government types across the state have gone apoplectic over Gov. LePage’s welfare reform initiatives, especially the decision to hire an outside consultant to review Maine’s sclerotic welfare state.

The Department of Health and Human Services spends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on outside consulting every year, and no one bats an eye. But you hire one consultant whose aim is to shrink government rather than grow it, and everyone loses their mind.

Now, though, the moonbats have been vindicated in their outcry, it seems, after the discovery of what appear to be several instances of the Alexander Group, authors of two wide-ranging reports on Maine’s welfare system, lifting other people’s work and failing to appropriately cite it.

The firm has acknowledged it messed up – and boy, did it.

POOR WORK

What appeared at first to be a limited punctuation mistake now looks like an extensive pattern of deliberate misappropriation of other people’s ideas. Combined with ambiguous citations, it’s enough for some to allege plagiarism.

Whether it is plagiarism is an academic distinction, but it’s certainly poor quality. These are high school-level errors, inexplicably sloppy and mind-bogglingly thoughtless. Inexcusable, especially when everyone involved knew these reports would be placed under greater scrutiny than most budgets in Augusta.

The entire affair could well spell doom for the Alexander Group, which should now be falling over itself to return every dime it’s been paid. However, none of this changes the usefulness of the ideas in the report for welfare reformers. The overarching message remains irrefutable: Maine’s welfare system is dysfunctional and unsustainable and is not achieving its goals.

The assault on Gary Alexander, founder and president of the Alexander Group, was always motivated by electoral politics. Where once they insisted that Alexander was a tea partier’s tea partier, they now are faulting him from borrowing ideas from some progressive institutions. The irony seems lost on critics, who are busily enjoying some schadenfreude.

EXCUSE TO AVOID PROBLEM

Unfortunately, obstinate lawmakers now have an excuse to shun welfare reform.

Nonetheless, the ideas in the report will serve as a useful tool for anyone with an open mind and a will to fix the system.

Two recommendations worth considering are front-end work searches for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and systemwide front-end fraud detection protocols.

The work search requirement was a good idea when LePage introduced it, and it’s a good idea now; it embodies the federal government’s (and Bill Clinton’s) original hope for a welfare-to-work attitude. It will also improve our workforce participation rate, which helps avoid federal penalties. And front-end detection protocols would keep ineligible people off the welfare system, which is much more cost-effective than taking them off.

These are just two of a host of ideas lawmakers have in their toolbox if they really want to help public assistance programs achieve their goals. Other recommendations would address duplicity in DHHS’ child care payment system. And obtaining a global waiver for Medicaid reform, as the report recommends, remains the gold standard, even if it’s a pipe dream under the current president.

The capacity of these ideas to improve lives and save tax dollars notwithstanding, the summer will continue to bear witness to ratcheted-up attempts to turn the Alexander kerfuffle into a campaign talking point.

Indeed, we’re already seeing this with the clever neologism, “LePlagiarism.” It’s clever because it immediately implies that the governor is a plagiarist. He’s not, but he is responsible for commissioning a poorly performing contractor against a choir of objectors.

ANGER JUSTIFIED

How LePage responds will tell us more about campaign implications, if any, than huffing and puffing from giddy liberals, whose newfound concern with wasteful spending is just laughable. But it is difficult to justify spending any money on a report that essentially summarizes Google search results for “welfare reform.”

LePage should deal with this as he would have dealt with an underperforming Marden’s contractor, and it appears he is poised to do just that. Late Friday, the governor’s office issued a statement saying he has halted all payments to the Alexander Group and is willing to terminate the contract.

In his statement, LePage said he is “gravely concerned.” He’d be better off summoning some of that characteristic anger, and not for the journalists who exposed it.

Steven E. Robinson is editor of TheMaineWire.Com and a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @Stevie_Rob