When Republican Gov. Paul LePage took the reins of Maine state government in 2011, the state was a mess: One out of three people were on welfare, massive budget deficits plagued the state, and able-bodied, working-age adults were allowed to receive government assistance indefinitely.
Over the next eight years, LePage furiously fought off those that wanted to preserve and expand the welfare state, reforming the state’s welfare programs and completely changing the face of welfare in Maine.
Enrollment in the government-funded Medicaid program dropped from 354,000 to 261,000 — all while other states saw their own Medicaid enrollments double after they expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults. When LePage implemented work requirements for able-bodied adults on food stamps, food stamp enrollment dropped from 260,000 to 170,000.
The state prospered as a result — former welfare recipients went back to work in droves, earning more income than they ever had before. LePage cut taxes, reformed pensions, and putting $1 billion in the rainy-day fund. LePage’s welfare reforms have become part of the blueprint for the Trump administration’s reforms that promote work and economic mobility for able-bodied adults.
But now, despite the incredible work of a reform-minded Administration, the victory for Maine taxpayers and the truly needy appears to be on the chopping block: The axe of welfare expansion is ready to fall.
New Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills is dusting off the government-dependency playbook that has been perfected in states like California. On Day One in office, Mills’ most pressing need was to expand welfare by executive order to at least 70,000 able-bodied adults.
She has no plan to pay for it. She ordered her health department, headed by a former ObamaCare official, to begin implementing the welfare expansion before one dollar of state funding has been identified. The lowest projections say it will cost about $60 million per year in state general funds — funds that could pay for things like schools, public safety, and the truly needy.
Maine has been through this before. In the early 2000s, Maine expanded Medicaid and paid a steep price. After a few miserable years of budget crisis, the state stopped the failed expansion, but not before racking up a $750 million hospital debt.
Medicaid expansion will take Maine back to darker days of unpaid debt and reliance on government handouts. At its core, this return to the welfare state is just plain cruel. Taxpayer-funded resources will be stolen from the truly needy to prop up the perfectly able.
Enrollment will far exceed projections, and expansion will be much costlier than anyone has predicted, just like it has been in each state that has expanded Medicaid.
And just like in every other expansion state, Maine will face the risk of rampant Medicaid fraud. In her executive order, Mills said that actions will be taken to “speed application and eligibility determinations … to provide coverage as quickly as possible.” This “speed” in signing people up for welfare has led to massive fraud in California, Louisiana, Minnesota and other states.
There is hope for Mainers: just before LePage left office, the Administration’s request for work requirements for able-bodied adults on Medicaid was approved. Eighty percent of voters agree that able-bodied adults on welfare should work, train, or volunteer. With this reform, Maine has an opportunity to move thousands from welfare to work — so long as it doesn’t become the next victim of a pro-welfare expansion agenda.
The LePage legacy of more Mainers getting a paycheck is quickly being replaced by the Mills dream of more Mainers getting welfare.
It’s a sad day for the truly needy and taxpayers in Maine.
Sam Adolphsen is vice president of executive affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for three years. Prior to his time as COO, he served a short term as Deputy Commissioner of Finance for DHHS with oversight over a $3.5 billion annual budget that included the state’s Medicaid budget.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.