Taxpayers get suspicious when they hear the words no-bid contract because, well, that’s not the way government normally works.
Detailed specifications are usually followed by multiple bids, which usually result in the highest quality work at the lowest price.
Failing to seek bids invariably means paying top dollar for the work to be done.
And that’s the first in a series of problems with Gov. Paul LePage’s surprise announcement this week that he has hired a controversial Rhode Island Republican consultant to study our MaineCare system.
Garry Alexander of Alexander Associates landed that $925,000 no-bid contract, about half of which must be completed within the next month.
And that’s another red flag — how can such a small firm, with only one similar study under its belt, complete such an analysis in four weeks?
In July, Alexander completed a $220,000 “Review of Arkansas’s Medicaid and Public-Welfare System” commissioned by the state’s General Assembly, but that was a less-extensive project than the one commissioned by our governor, and still took four months to accomplish.
Before that, Alexander served as Pennsylvania’s secretary of public welfare under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, a job he resigned in February 2013.
There, Alexander was alternately praised as an innovative reformer and criticized as an insensitive budget slasher who worked four-day weeks and lived in another state.
He is now under attack by Pennsylvania’s Democratic auditor for “long-term mismanagement” of a program and wasting $7 million.
Finally, Democrats, including state Sen. Margaret Craven and state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, both of Lewiston, have wondered where LePage is finding nearly $1 million to pay Alexander.
They also question whether the money would have been better spent helping the LePage administration sort out two administrative quagmires, the operation of Riverview Psychiatric Center and the state’s new non-emergency Medicaid ride system.
A Sun Journal review of the new contract shows about half the money will come from the state’s General Fund, meaning it will be unavailable for other state priorities.
All of which might leave taxpayers wondering why the governor is paying an outside firm so much money in an effort that will only confirm what he already believes.
Here’s one guess:
First, to help make sure Republicans don’t join Democrats in approving an extension of MaineCare in the next legislative session.
Second, to provide new charts, graphs and reference points for his re-election campaign showing that lazy poor people are to blame for the state’s financial problems.
Finally, to provide a legislative agenda to further dismantle MaineCare in the 2015 legislative session if he should win re-election in November 2014.
In effect, Gary Alexander is a $925,000 addition to the governor’s political team.
Here’s the evidence of that: If legislative Democrats had come up with the same idea — hiring a million-dollar consultant to “analyze” the expansion of Medicaid — LePage would be making the same charges, that it’s political and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
In the end, Maine taxpayers should pay attention to numbers we already know well:
Two out of three MaineCare dollars come from federal taxpayers, and between 90 and 100 percent of Medicaid expansion money would come from the federal level.
When we refuse what the federal government is offering, the money will simply go to another state with more common sense.
Three out of four MaineCare recipients are children, disabled or elderly, and they account for 90 percent of the program’s cost.
The other 10 percent of the money is spent on health care for adults in poverty, many of whom work but still cannot afford insurance.
There are proven ways of making MaineCare more efficient and effective, and Gary Alexander’s $925,000 would have been far better spent on any one of those.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.