AUGUSTA — A conservative think tank rolled out its latest report on state government largess, leveling criticism at both Republicans and Democrats in its “Maine Piglet Book” on Thursday.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s report, released at a State House news conference, notes that spending in the office of Republican Gov. Paul LePage shot up 71 percent between 2010 and 2014.

The report also takes a whack at legislation passed last year that helps fund a $500,000 passenger-rail development plan and study aimed at connecting Lewiston-Auburn to Maine’s existing Amtrak Downeaster system that runs between Portland and Brunswick.

And Attorney General Janet Mills is criticized for a “habit of overspending.”

“Taxpayers have been shocked to learn of the gluttonous government waste, millions of dollars spent on pet projects, unfathomable amounts devoted to state employees and special favors that politicians have given themselves,” said Matthew Gagnon, the chief executive officer for the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

“Augusta spends in two minutes what the average Mainer makes in a year,” he said.

Gagnon criticized legislative leaders for crafting a state budget deal behind closed doors that increased state spending by $300 million over a two-year budget cycle. Details in the report also point to the state spending more than $50,000 a year on bottled water and more than $4 million a year on welfare benefits for noncitizens.

Mills is criticized in the report for refusing to represent the state in legal disputes, “that forced taxpayers to foot the bill for about $2 million in fees (paid) to private legal counsel.”

These were federal lawsuits sought by LePage’s administration that Mills advised the governor against pursuing.

Tim Feeley, a spokesman for Mills, disputed the allegation that Mills refused to represent the state. 

“We have not ‘turned down’ any cases,” Feeley wrote in an email message. “We advised them not to bring certain cases; they ignored our advice and they lost after spending a lot of money on attorneys’ fees.”

LePage’s staff likewise bristled at the charge that the governor’s office had increased its spending by 71 percent. Communications Director Peter Steele said the analysis doesn’t take into account the savings LePage initiated by consolidating agency functions or eliminating the Office of State Planning and creating the one-person Office of Policy Management.

In an email message to the Sun Journal, Steele called the center’s  71 percent increase figure “ridiculous.”

“The 71 percent doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” Steele wrote. “The Piglet Book simply lumped spending together with no regard to the savings.”

According to LePage Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s elimination of the Office of State Planning reduced government spending by about $400,000 from 2010. Bennett said the center’s report counts the Governor’s Energy Office in its spending totals but that office is funded by federal grants.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, the author of the bill that advanced the $500,000 for a passenger rail development plan for Lewiston-Auburn called the center’s characterization of the plan an “outright lie.”

Golden said that only $150,000 for the development plan came from the state’s General Fund. The cities of Lewiston and Auburn each contributed $50,000 to the plan and the remaining $250,000 came from a Maine Department of Transportation account dedicated to developing multimodal transportation options for the state.

The development plan, on which work hasn’t begun, isn’t “wasteful spending but necessary spending so the state can prepare to make important investments in Lewiston-Auburn,” he said.

Golden said he was “glad that they are pointing this out to my constituents, that I effectively got this funded in the budget.

“They can call it pork,” he added. “I call it getting the job done for the people of Lewiston.”

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