LEWISTON, Maine — Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage said during a visit to Lewiston on Thursday that he hoped the problems around a controversial welfare study his administration commissioned on a $925,200 no-bid contract could be used as an “education moment.”
He also told reporters he now no longer plans to meet in person with Gary Alexander, the president and CEO of the Alexander Group — the company hired by the state to produce the study.
LePage was visiting the Androscoggin Business-to-Business Trade Show at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee when he told reporters that Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew was in talks with Alexander, whose company was hired to analyze Maine’s public welfare and health care benefit programs and make detailed suggestions that would help save the state money.
In May, LePage suspended payments to the company after Alexander acknowledged portions of the five-part study he delivered to the state contained plagiarized information. So far the state has paid just more than $500,000 for the work and LePage earlier said the state might seek a refund.
On Thursday, LePage said Mayhew and Alexander were involved in talks. LePage said he met with Mayhew last week and gave her guidelines on negotiating with Alexander but didn’t detail them.
“They have been talking and I understand that their talks are going well,” LePage said. “If they go well, fine, I won’t have to interfere. If they don’t then I will have to interfere.”
LePage said he had discussed having a meeting with Alexander but decided against it. He also noted again that he didn’t personally sign the contract, although his office did sign off on the contract for the study prior to it being issued.
He wanted to use the problems with the contract as a “education moment,” saying DHHS officials and others within his administration did not heed his advice on that contract and others that have been problematic.
“I do believe that we need to be a little bit tougher and use a little bit more foresight when we sign contracts,” LePage said. “I’m trying to work with those that negotiate contracts instead of just saying, ‘You have to.’ I’m trying to get them to understand the rationale and how it works.”
LePage said the state should be requiring those who are awarded state contracts to make deposits to protect the state’s interests and cover its legal costs should something go wrong with the contract.
LePage said he ultimately took responsibility for the flawed study and any other problematic contracts negotiated by his administration.
“It’s always the governor’s fault, he’s the only guy that’s elected statewide and I take responsibility,” LePage said.
Also at the trade show was state Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston. Craven has been an outspoken critic of the Alexander Group contract and among a group of Democrats who passed a bill that would have canceled the contract.
LePage vetoed the legislation, saying it was an unconstitutional power grab by the Legislature of the executive branch’s authority to negotiate contracts for the state.
Craven said the study had lost all credibility and was essentially worthless.
“His report is of no value to us,” Craven said.
She said the information that was plagiarized from other reports already would have been available to the state for no cost. She also said other portions of the study turned in by Alexander’s company were fraught with errors — although the Alexander Group has disputed that.
“Even the Republicans weren’t using it for anything because they knew very well that it was invalid, that it wasn’t any good,” Craven said.