It’s no surprise that something legislators in Augusta do best is churn out reams of reports and studies, many of which go unread by other legislators.

An analysis by the State House News Service in this week’s American Journal reveals that legislative committees and blue ribbon commissions produce more than 500 reports a year. The reports range from studying ways to pay for the Dirigo Health Insurance program to expanding the scope of work for people who make dentures.

It’s hard to know how much producing all these reports costs. Reports produced by legislators when they’re out of session cost about $3,000 per report, which includes the cost of printing and a per diem for participants. However, state employees produce many of the reports during their regular workweek, taking away from time they might be spending on other things. All of the reports are reproduced between 50 and 200 times so that they can be distributed among other legislators.

“There are days when I go to the mailbox and my mail is literally twisted to fit in,” said House minority leader David Bowles (R-Sanford).

Bowles said he tries to read at least the executive summaries on all the reports. It’s a good bet, however, he doesn’t get to all of them, and an even better bet that many legislators don’t even get around to reading most of the reports.

To most taxpayers, this seems like a colossal waste of time and money. For starters, the state doesn’t need to produce so many reports. Many of these contain valuable information that can be the basis for thoughtful legislation, but legislators and the state can tackle only so many topics at one time.

Many of these reports often go nowhere, because of the lack of political will or financial resources to carry out their recommendations. They simply collect dust in the archives at the Maine State Library.

Legislators should look at ways to reduce the number of reports produced each year. If nothing else, the mountains of paperwork are a waste of time, money and paper. If it’s absolutely necessary to produce a report on a subject, legislators owe it to their constituents to read it, and then do something about it.

More signs of ailing government program

Recent statistics compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau show that, despite the Dirigo Health program, the number of uninsured people in Maine has actually increased.

The statistics show the number of uninsured went from 130,000 in 2004 to 141,000 in 2005. The Census Bureau compiled the statistics for 36 states and warned they were “not statistically significant” on a state-by-state basis. However, Republicans were quick to use them to criticize the governor’s Dirigo Health program.

While it’s difficult to take these numbers too seriously because of their statistical insignificance, they certainly don’t point to any gains on Maine’s population of uninsured people. In fact, they are just more evidence that state’s Dirigo Health program has done little if anything about insuring the uninsured. And the program certainly hasn’t done much to control the cost of health care and insurance premiums, which are expected to increase again next year.

The state really needs to reevaluate the effectiveness of this program and look at serious reforms or scrapping it altogether. The ever-increasing cost of health care is enough of a burden on the public without the added burden of a failed government program.

-Brendan Moran, editor


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