AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage continued a familiar refrain Tuesday when he said Democrats in the Legislature are on a mission to keep people in poverty and dependent on social service programs.
LePage said during an interview on WVOM that Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon’s bill, which would allocate $150 million in what she says is unspent federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program funding to augment social service programs, is based on false information.
Gideon and Democrats, citing a 2016 report from the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review that showed $150 million in unspent TANF funds at the end of fiscal year 2016, are lining up behind the new bill, which also has four Republican sponsors from some of Maine’s more economically depressed areas.
“I am not sitting on $150 million of uncommitted funds,” LePage said Tuesday. “She is just dead wrong. … We’re all sitting around wondering what she’s talking about. They’ll have to come down and show me where the money is.”
LePage and the Democrats have clashed mightily over social services, particularly TANF, for years. LePage has made a range of moves to restrict the program, including capping it to five years lifetime and a new pending proposal to reduce the cap to three years, as well as increasing work and volunteerism requirements in the job-training arm of the program.
The governor often attributes his re-election to a second term and Republicans’ relative success in legislative elections, in part, to the changes they made to social service programs.
LePage questioned Gideon’s assertion that extreme childhood poverty in Maine is increasing at eight times the national average — which Gideon attributed to the U.S. Census bureau’s American Community Survey — and reiterated the results of his own office’s study that found TANF reforms are producing higher incomes and more people in the workforce.
A BDN analysis of that study found it focused too much on specific groups and not enough on overall statewide wage increases. DHHS told the BDN at the time that it would further analyze IRS data to supplement the study — but that hasn’t yet happened.
LePage said Gideon wants to use her bill as a leverage point over negotiations around a 3 percent surtax on income above $200,000, which was enacted by Maine voters last year for the benefit of public schools. That is the looming friction point that could lead to a legislative stalemate on the two-year state budget proposal that is under consideration.
“This has nothing to do with welfare,” LePage said. “It has everything to do with taxation.”
In other topics discussed on WVOM include the following:
LePage reiterated his complaint that the process leading up to former President Barack Obama’s declaration of a national monument in the Katahdin region lacked transparency. He claimed his communications with Lucas St. Clair, who testified with LePage last week at a congressional committee hearing about designation of national monuments, had been poor and that he could not recall receiving an invitation from St. Clair to view the property before the designation. St. Clair represents his family, who donated the land and set up an endowment to care for it.
“We’ve been looking ever since I’ve been back [from Washington],” LePage said of his staff. “I’m going to tell you I can count them on one hand and they’re mostly complaint letters rather than inviting me to be involved in the process.”
LePage said his spat with State Treasurer Terry Hayes over transportation bond money could lead to the discovery that restricting a request for proposals for a law firm to represent the state in a spring bond sale was a form of “white-collar crime.”
Without evidence, he insinuated that the winning firm helped write the RFP in a way that excluded Maine firms. But Hayes told the Bangor Daily News on Friday that the language in question, which asks for references from three other state treasurers, has been used by other Maine treasurers.
BDN State House reporter Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.
This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.