Democrats do about-face, will let controversial welfare consultant address legislative committee

Posted Jan. 13, 2014, at 8:57 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 13, 2014, at 2:22 p.m.
Gary Alexander
A. Jay Higgins | MPBN
Gary Alexander

AUGUSTA, Maine — He was on the agenda and then he was off the agenda. Now he’s back on, and it appears lawmakers on the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will get to hear, in person, from Gary Alexander.

Alexander, CEO of the Alexander Group — a Rhode Island company hired, under a nearly $1 million contract, by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to analyze and report on Maine welfare programs — is expected to testify before the committee Tuesday.

The appearance will follow an over-the-weekend political tit-for-tat between majority Democrats, who were protesting the cost and validity of the report, and Republicans, who claimed Democrats are blocking the report’s results because it shows Maine can’t afford to expand its Medicaid program, MaineCare.

Democrats have twice passed legislation that fell to LePage vetoes that would have done that.

Democrats believe LePage simply hired Alexander, whose work in other states has been viewed as controversial, to concoct a study supporting the governor’s position against expansion.

“My Democratic colleagues have spent months blasting the LePage administration for not sending personnel to committee hearings that were designed only for partisan publicity, and when the administration sent written materials instead, they scoffed,” Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said in a prepared statement issued Saturday.

Sanderson, is a lead Republican on the Health and Human Services Committee.

“Now the Democrats are suddenly saying they don’t want live testimony, and that the written report will do,” Sanderson said. “I don’t know if it’s because the results of the study make it inconvenient to conduct their usual publicity stunt or because they just don’t want to hear information that contradicts their desired outcome, but it’s wrong either way.”

A message issued Sunday by a spokeswoman for Democrats and the committee’s Democratic chairwoman, Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said Alexander would be allowed to testify.

Craven and the committee’s House chairman, Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, said they acted in “haste when we postponed Mr. Alexander’s appearance before the committee.”

“However, we did so with the understanding that the Alexander report would be briefed at Wednesday’s public hearing,” they said. “This decision should have been more carefully vetted. Legislative leadership has since urged us to put Mr. Alexander back on Tuesday’s agenda, and we have done so.”

Alexander and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew presented the first portion of his firm’s five-part study to the media and public last Friday.

During that presentation, Alexander said his findings suggest expanding Medicaid in Maine would cost the state $807 million over the next 10 years.

The final portion of the Alexander Group report — which is costing the state $925,200 — will be delivered to the state in May.

Meanwhile, Alexander is expected to appear before the Health and Human Services Committee to take questions on his report at noon Tuesday.

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