Most would agree that while the nation’s financial crisis is behind us, Maine has not yet recovered. Financial resources are stretched; budgets are cash-strapped. And we are all being asked to do more with less.
In state government, there’s an even higher responsibility to ensure judicious spending — because our budget is a budget of the people, the taxpayer.
Last week, the Legislature and the people of Maine discovered through newspaper reports that Gov. Paul LePage paid nearly $1 million to hire a tea party consultant to review the state’s health insurance program, MaineCare.
In a time when every dollar is being stretched, we have to ask: Can the state afford to pay $1 million to an out-of-stater to write a report, especially when we already know what that report will say?
In the Legislature, when we draft budgets, we expect, and we know, that every penny will be scrutinized — and it should be. Over the last few years, structural changes have been made. And, as a result, we haven’t been able to fund everything we want — or even everything that needs to be funded.
So why then, is LePage spending $1 million on a no-bid contract to a man whose stance on MaineCare is already well-known and well-documented? In fact, under his direction, the state of Pennsylvania kicked nearly 90,000 children off of its state-run health care program.
This $1 million out-of-state consultant is cut from the same tea party cloth as LePage. So it’s not clear why we need to pay someone else $1 million to hear the same rhetoric we hear every day from LePage.
The state’s financial priorities need to reflect the priorities of the people of Maine — not the ideology of a fringe group.
A million dollars can go a long way.
It could go toward providing property tax relief to Maine homeowners.
As we approach another cold Maine winter, it could go toward fuel assistance for needy Maine families.
It could go toward worker retraining for Mainers who were laid off and haven’t yet returned to the workforce.
It could help more Maine children enroll in early childhood programs such as Head Start. Or it could provide more free lunches to hungry students.
It could also go toward one of the state’s brewing crises at the Department of Health and Human Services: For example, it could ensure patient and staff safety at Riverview and perhaps cure the issues raised by the feds when they took away $20 million from the state.
Or it could set straight the bungled MaineCare transportation program, so people can get to their critical doctor’s appointments.
But LePage chose none of those options. Instead, he chose to write a check to another ideological warrior who will validate his position of denying and delaying health care to Mainers. This man will tell LePage that the state’s run health care program, MaineCare, is welfare — even though MaineCare is health insurance.
In fact, MaineCare is the only way many of Maine’s elderly, disabled, working poor and children get health insurance coverage. Six weeks from now, 25,000 of these Mainers will be dropped from the state-run health insurance program unless LePage does something.
Instead of $1 million in wasteful spending, I call on LePage to choose a different priority: Expand health care to 70,000 Mainers. It is the right thing — and smart thing — to do financially, and it is the moral thing to do for Maine people.
Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, is president of the Maine Senate.