By Jonathan McKane — Maine Democrats and the Maine press are fed up. They are demanding action. And for the first time in decades, they are speaking out against wasteful government spending. Specifically, it is the $500,000 paid to the Alexander Group that has really set them off.
Here is a just little of what they are saying:
Ben Grant, Chairman of the Maine Democratic Party: “Taxpayers should demand a refund for this waste of money.”
Mark Eves (D-North Berwick), Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives: “It is a sad day when taxpayer dollars are spent so egregiously.”
Amy Fried, University of Maine Professor and left-wing blogger: “This is a crying shame.”
Mike Tipping, spokesman for the radical-left Maine Peoples Alliance: “It’s time for Maine to get our money back.”
Rep. Richard Farnsworth (D-Portland) Chair of the Health and Human Services committee: “It is an ethical failure.”
Justin Alfond (D-Portland), President of the Maine Senate with Speaker Eves in a joint statement to Governor LePage: “…we are requesting that you present to the Maine people your plan for correcting this situation and recovering the funds that have been wasted to date.”
The Bangor Daily News has chimed in, too: “What a waste.”
And finally – and predictably – the Portland Press Herald gave their assessment in an editorial: “they have to accept responsibility for this enormous failure of judgment.”
Strong rhetoric, indeed. Unprecedented, really, considering the issue and the sources. It all stems from the fact that the state has spent $.5 million on a project that includes a report that has not only punctuation errors but possibly some plagiarism.
Liz Schott, one of the authors whose material was used said, “We don’t think professional standards would include excerpting significant chunks of text without quotation marks.” Fair enough – quotation marks are critical.
The BDN had to admit, “To its credit, the Alexander Group cites the report as a source.” In other words, it’s sort of plagiarism.
Governor LePage had this to say, “I have yet to find anything in the document that is untrue,” – but I suppose that’s not the Democrats’ point.
The point is that $.5 million of taxpayer funds has possibly been wasted, and that’s no small sum by anyone’s standards. And if indeed it has been wasted, then I want the money back, too. But in comparison to the plethora of truly egregious past government spending debacles however, it is miniscule.
My question to the Maine Dems and the press is this: Where have you been? I and other fiscal conservatives welcome these recent questions about government spending – any and all of them. But where were you when:
In 2005, the Maine Department of Health and human services spent more than $60 million for a computer system that never worked and was eventually scrapped?
When year after year, from 2000 to 2010, the State Single Audit (a federal requirement) reported that Maine’s DHHS, for example, had “inadequate controls over cash management,” “expenditures included twice,” “overstated expenditures,” “ partially claimed payroll expenditures,” “cash drawn in excess of expenditures,” “inaccurate federal financial reports” that left millions unaccounted for?
When Dirigo Health spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds, always running short, borrowing more and never coming close to any of its goals?
When shortfalls and structural gaps were found in every state budget, resulting in supplemental budgets that needed fiscal gimmicks, tax and fee hikes and even borrowing to balance them?
When the Maine liquor business was leased for a one-time windfall of $125 million needed to balance the budget but which lost $26 million a year in liquor sales revenue for ten years?
When millions were spent year after year on out-of-state travel for state employees?
When the Maine State Housing Authority, the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine Green Energy Alliance were found to have misused, wasted, squandered and more, millions in taxpayer funds?
You were silent. You looked the other way. You made up excuses. You hedged. And you defended these abuses.
Don’t get me wrong, we fiscal conservatives welcome any new allies in the never-ending fight against government over-spending. Had we seen even a token amount of fiscal frugality in the past two decades from Maine Democrats and the Maine Press we would surely be encouraged. And if indeed the taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth with the Alexander group, we shouldn’t have to pay.
But his newfound taxpayer concern over a possible misspent $.5 million, which ironically has the intent of rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the DHHS and was of course initiated by Republican Governor Paul LePage, is hard to take as genuine. Instead it appears as desperate election-year politics with fiscal concern as only a necessary byproduct.
Still, we can give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you have begun to realize the damage to families, businesses and the economy that wasteful government spending can bring. Maybe this epiphany will result in a new age of accurate and honest budgetary accounting and – dare I say it – maybe even tax cuts. I won’t hold my breath.
Jonathan McKane lives in Newcastle and served on the Maine Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee in the 122nd, 123rd and 125th legislatures.