January 15

Bill Nemitz: LePage burned by own report on MaineCare

No fool, that Eliot Cutler. You see a piece of low-hanging fruit out there on the campaign trail, you pluck it and plaster your opponent with it.

“In 40 years of my working life, I’ve never seen before a case where a CEO or, for that matter, a governor, has paid a million dollars for a report that sets out as clearly as the Alexander report does why he ... should be fired,” Cutler, the independent candidate to replace Gov. Paul LePage, told the assembled media at his campaign headquarters in Portland on Tuesday morning.

He was talking about Part 1 of the Alexander Group’s soup-to-nuts study of Maine’s welfare system, also known as LePage’s new, $925,000 weapon (our tax dollars at work) in his administration’s never-ending war on Maine’s poor.

Specifically, Cutler set his sights on the claim by Gary Alexander and his not-quite-ready-for-prime-time band of conservative “consultants” that poverty in Maine will increase by about 30 percent between now and 2020. There’s no way Maine can afford to have all those people signing up for Medicaid (known in these parts as MaineCare) under the federal Affordable Care Act, they reason.

More on Alexander’s report – and his lackluster performance Tuesday afternoon before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee – in a minute.

First, let’s join Cutler in marveling at how numbers, if tossed around far and wide enough, can eventually boomerang and bite you in the behind.

Consider: LePage is entering the fourth and final year of his first term, locked in a nail-biter of a re-election campaign against Cutler and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

If he were a successful governor thus far, the Big Guy would be hanging his hat proudly on how he’s turned Maine’s flagging economy around. How a rising tide of prosperity is lifting all boats – from the lowliest minimum-wage dinghies to the luxury yachts piloted by those overachieving, underappreciated job creators.

Instead, what do we get? Predictions of more poverty.

“The one contribution that this report has made is to show that Gov. LePage’s own policies are a failure and that he has no plan, no plan at all, to grow Maine’s economy into one that generates jobs instead of poverty,” said Cutler. “The governor has walked away from his own job of making Maine a better place to do business. By standing on this report, he has implicitly declared his own policies to be a failure and he’s given up on Maine’s future.”

Translation: What’s good for LePage’s campaign against expanding MaineCare (despite the feds picking up the whole tab for three years and no less than 90 percent after that), is not so good for his campaign to spend another four years in the Blaine House.

Chided Cutler, “Now Gov. LePage is telling us that instead of turning Maine around, we should plan on adding tens of thousands more people to the poverty rolls.”

Like any thinking person, of course, Cutler knows there’s a silver lining – or maybe it’s just a lighter shade of gray – to the dark cloud imported to Maine by the Rhode Island-based Alexander Group.

The truth is that Alexander’s gloom-and-doom prediction of a near-30-percent spike in Maine’s poverty, while a convenient cudgel against MaineCare expansion, conflicts dramatically with more reputable national projections. Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, noted Cutler, foresee a 10 percent drop in poverty rates over the next decade.

Yet there Alexander sat Tuesday afternoon alongside Erik Randolph, his senior associate, and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, insisting to the Health and Human Services Committee that their numbers are solid and that expanding MaineCare would be tantamount to sending Maine to hell in a hand basket.

(Continued on page 2)

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