Maine Governor Refuses to Release Publicly-Funded Welfare Report
By Mario Moretto
On Wednesday, Attorney General Janet Mills demanded in a letter that Gov. Paul LePage release a publically funded report crafted by the controversial Alexander Group to anyone who requested it. When asked in an interview how he responded, LePage said simply: "Tell her to sue me."
The letter from Mills -- a Democrat who was elected to office when her party regained majorities in the House and Senate in 2012 -- was addressed to LePage and Mary Mayhew, whose Department of Health and Human Services signed a $925,000 contract for the Rhode Island-based Alexander Group to study Maine's welfare system, including the possibility of expanding Medicaid as allowed by the federal Affordable Care Act.
The group is led by Gary Alexander, former public welfare chief in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, who in 2010 turned down the position of DHHS commissioner in Maine because it didn't pay enough. He is now tasked with analyzing Maine's welfare system and studying what effects would follow a potential Medicaid expansion.
Democrats have criticized Alexander for his track record in Pennsylvania, where thousands were cut from welfare rolls under his tenure. They also accused LePage of "cronyism" in hiring the group. LePage has said the Alexander Group is the best welfare consulting firm in the country, and points to Alexander's time in Rhode Island, where he won a global Medicaid waiver from the federal government, giving the state unparalleled flexibility in administering its publicly funded health coverage.
The contract includes a timeline for the delivery of several reports, the first of which was a Medicaid expansion feasibility study due Dec. 1. The LePage administration received that report on Dec. 16 -- the governor himself received it on Jan. 3, according to spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett -- but has resisted calls from reporters and others to release it, saying the governor would take the time to read and analyze the draft before making it public. Maine's Freedom of Access Act includes no provision to shield public documents pending executive review. The Bangor Daily News and Sun Journal have both filed multiple requests for the document, which have gone unfulfilled.
"Such a rationale for delay does not exist in statute," Mills wrote. "Reliance on such troublesome criteria could result in a court finding that you have acted in bad faith in resisting disclosure, with the attendant legal consequences of such a finding."
?DHHS officials and communications staff in LePage's office had originally said the report would be made available on Jan. 6. With that deadline come and gone, reporters' requests for the report have remained unfulfilled.
"As chief law enforcement officer for the State of Maine and chief advisor on Freedom of Access issues, I must insist you release this report to all who request it immediately," Mills wrote to LePage. In an interview with a group of State House reporters Wednesday, LePage was defiant despite Mills' letter. He told reporters they would see the report when he was ready.
"It's right here," he said, picking up a stack of papers from his desk. "I'm reading it. And when I'm done, you'll get it. I have not completed reading it, but I am reading it and will be done shortly."
LePage also said the report shows that Medicaid expansion would be too heavy a cost for Maine to bear. Expansion -- a key provision of President Barack Obama's landmark health care reform law would provide taxpayer-funded health care to 70,000 additional Mainers, paid for in large part by the federal government -- is a top priority for Democrats this year. The effort was defeated by gubernatorial veto in 2013.
"Everything in there is going to vindicate my position on not expanding," LePage said Wednesday. "It clearly tells us that it's going to cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade."
LePage also waved off Democrats' claim that Alexander was chosen for ideological reasons, to deliver a report that would bolster the governor's position.
"The Democrats are going to say it's a hand-picked consultant. Well, I'll tell you this: Whenever you hire a consultant, you have your choice of who to pick," he said. "When you have the best in the country, who has done the program in Rhode Island, in Pennsylvania, who has consulted in many states, you may want to listen to him."
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said Mainers deserve to see the report that their tax dollars paid for.
"We've got a real problem here," he said Wednesday. "Taxpayer money has been used. $1 million. ... We're just digesting what the top lawyer, the attorney general, said in the letter. We'll definitely gather our troops and come up with whatever tactics and strategies we can to get this report released."
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said he understands the position that if the document is still in draft form that the governor may want to review it first. But Saviello also acknowledged that state law does not allow LePage to withhold the document for that reason.
"He should just follow the law and release the report," Saviello said. "Just release the report. I asked yesterday in our own caucus when we were going to have the report and we were told only it was coming."
(c)2014 the Bangor Daily News
Scott Thistle, state politics editor at the Sun Journal, contributed to this report.