RENEE ORDWAY

LePage spending a lot of money for welfare consultant to sit by his side and say ‘atta boy’

Posted Nov. 22, 2013, at 3:12 p.m.
Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway

First, know this as we continue down the painstaking path toward the next gubernatorial election:

Gov. Paul LePage most likely doesn’t care what you think about his decision to pay nearly $1 million to a Rhode Island consulting firm to examine Maine’s welfare system.

Nor, I would suggest, does he care if anyone is concerned that he failed to notify anyone in the Legislature about his plan or that he chose not to put the job out to bid to try to get the best product at the best price.

If we’ve learned nothing else about our governor during the past three years, we have learned that he puts little stock in any opinion that might possibly counter his own and rarely ever feels the need to explain himself or his actions.

Thus, as far as he is concerned, paying Gary Alexander and his firm that amount of money to produce a report that I dare guess will fall directly into line with LePage’s philosophy on Medicaid expansion and fraudulent welfare recipients is worth it.

It’s a lot of money to spend for someone to sit by your side and say “atta boy,” but every governor has their priorities.

Alexander was a controversial figure when he was the public welfare secretary in Pennsylvania. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he cut 88,000 children from Medicaid during a five-month period and made it more difficult for low-income single parents to get day care. He also charged taxpayers for his weekly commute to Rhode Island, where he lived while serving in the Pennsylvania position.

This is not to say of course that Maine’s welfare system doesn’t need a significant overhaul and that it is not fraught with blatant abuse. Alexander seemed able to make those cuts in Pennsylvania himself while serving as its secretary of public welfare, the equivalent of DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew’s job.

Apparently Mayhew needs some extra help — some very expensive extra help — to do the same job.

According to published reports here, while in Rhode Island, Alexander was successful in fighting for a global Medicaid waiver, which gave that state total flexibility in administering its Medicaid program by effectively turning the federal funding into a block grant.

This is an idea that apparently appeals to LePage, who has made clear his opposition to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

One could assume, then, that this costly venture will result in a report recommending a similar strategy for Maine.

The question is, however, why does the state need its own report?

If it’s been done successfully and is working well for Rhode Island, why doesn’t the LePage administration itself study that plan of action already in play and present it as an option?

State administrators share successful and failed strategies with one another all the time — for free.

Being the bad guy in the welfare department is bound to elicit criticism.

But Alexander also was criticized during his tenure in Pennsylvania for banning women in his office from wearing open-toed shoes and mandating that they wear nylons or tights to work. One of his top aides resigned after writing columns for a conservative journal suggesting women should forgo birth control and perhaps stay out of the workplace.

Of course none of those things matter. This column doesn’t matter, your questions, if you have them, are of no concern and certainly the opinions of the legislative leadership hold no importance.

One might say that LePage better hope the report results in some pretty hefty cost savings and broad systemic changes for the price of it, but in truth, if it doesn’t, who are we to argue?

He’s our governor and there is no need for further explanation.

Contact Renee Ordway at reneeordway@gmail.com.

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