Gov. Paul LePage has shown a disconcerting tendency recently to either mishear, misinterpret or misquote important information he has been told by federal officials.
In the long run, the mistakes will hurt the governor's credibility or, worse, could lead legislators to enact budgets based upon bad information.
In mid-December, LePage told a crowd at Mt. Abram High School that a member of his staff had talked to Forbes magazine about how Maine can improve its dead-last ranking in the magazine's annual survey of business-friendly states.
LePage said the staff member was told by Forbes that state government must cut spending, reduce energy costs and address structural problems like welfare costs.
One small problem: Forbes told the Governor's Office no such thing.
"I certainly didn't say anything about welfare costs," Forbes senior editor Kurt Badenhausen told the Sun Journal. "I didn't tell them they needed to reduce energy costs. I told them, basically, the best thing they could do, and that any local government could do, was just to try and create more jobs."
Welfare costs aren't even part of the magazine's calculations. Instead, Forbes tracks 37 data points in six categories: business costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life.
The governor could argue, of course, that cutting welfare costs might reduce the cost of government, which could reduce taxes, which are a business cost.
That's fine. But it was misleading to suggest that Forbes magazine had endorsed his solutions.
Now the governor seems to have conflated or confused a conversation he had with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last April.
The governor is trying to cut $220 million from the state's Medicaid program, but that would require a so-called Maintenance of Effort waiver from Sebelius' department.
The governor said he was told in April the state would have to make cuts to the program before Sebelius' department would consider granting the waiver.
That, as some legislators have pointed out, would be risky. The state could adopt a budget based upon the cuts, only to learn later that the cuts were not permitted.
Contacted by the Sun Journal, federal sources refused to confirm Sebelius gave LePage such advice and declined to confirm that the DHHS cuts are necessary to obtain a waiver.
Confronted with that information, a LePage spokesperson said the administration knew it could apply for the waiver at any time and that cutting the budget first was meant to "put pressure" on the federal government to grant the waiver.
If we understand that correctly, the idea would be to knowingly create a budget crisis and then shift the blame to the feds.
That would be playing politics with benefits that thousands of elderly and disabled people depend upon.
Two states have thus far asked for waivers. One request has been denied and the other is pending.
That's not reassuring, and it would be unwise for the state to build a budget on that basis.
Beyond that, the governor needs to be forthcoming in his dealings with the Legislature and Maine's people.
These are important issues, too important for political sleight of hand and gamesmanship.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.