UPDATE: Despite Eves’ 2013 ‘Ticket to Work’ law, LePage won’t give Dems credit for welfare reform

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, left, and Gov. Paul LePage, right. BDN photos by Troy Bennett.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, left, and Gov. Paul LePage, right. BDN photos by Troy Bennett.

Gov. Paul LePage, who is on his annual vacation in Jamaica, used his radio address this week to advocate for a welfare reform bill he unveiled in a press conference on Monday.

His efforts seem to be picking up steam this year, evidenced by the fact that some Democrats have sponsored bills that mirror some of LePage’s initiatives. LePage’s favored initiatives also mirror some by Democrats, but we haven’t heard him admit it.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, for example, sponsored LD 1144, which calls for a ban on state cash benefits being used to pay for tobacco products, alcohol and gambling, long before LePage released his bill this week. In concept, McCabe’s bill is similar to LePage’s, which McCabe freely admits.

In addition, Westbrook Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine has sponsored a bill that would set up a tiered welfare system to help Mainers move gradually from social services to financial independence. LePage said Monday that he is planning on submitting similar legislation in the coming weeks.

LePage has not acknowledged that Democrats are interested in some level of welfare reform but not ready to rubber stamp every word of his proposals. In fact, LePage has for months been taking credit for a “Ticket to Work” initiative sponsored in 2013 by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, which is currently in law. The measure, which provided training to help welfare recipients transition to financial independence, had strong bipartisan support in the Legislature but went into law without LePage’s signature. LePage’s staff argues that LePage was already pursuing most of what Eves’ bill accomplished.

LePage has touted the law in numerous public settings, including last year on the campaign trail and in some of his campaign advertisements.

To be fair to the governor, not signing a bill puts it into law just a surely as signing it does, but if this was such a great idea why didn’t LePage show his support with his signature? And why is he so unwilling to acknowledge a job well done?

From LePage’s radio address, which airs this weekend:

Welfare is not a way of life. Maine taxpayers cannot afford to pay for bloated welfare programs, nor is it government’s role to do so. But government can take the time and effort to help Mainers through education and training to become financially stable and economically independent. Liberals think throwing money at the problem will solve it. That has never worked, and it never will. Taking the time to train, educate and mentor our fellow Mainers is the path toward success.

Why does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t. I’ve reported the origins of the Ticket to Work legislation — and the fact that it wasn’t LePage’s initiative — more than once. Eves said today, through a spokeswoman, that he doesn’t care who is receiving the credit for the Ticket to Work bill, as long as it is working.

LePage’s welfare initiatives, which have strong and probably growing support among Mainers, are more likely to be enacted if the executive branch would work more with the legislative branch — including Democrats — early in the legislative process.

However, if LePage continues his “us versus them” rhetoric, it could be at the expense of his foremost goals, which happen to be shared by Democrats.

UPDATE: The governor’s staff and Department of Health and Human Services spokesman David Sorensen reacted quickly and passionately to this post. That caused me to change the headline and make a few adjustments. They say LePage’s administration started working on training initiatives to help people escape welfare during his first year in office. Documents provided by the administration show that state government was in fact involved in assessing TANF recipients and moving them into job training initiatives prior to the passage of Eves’ bill. The administration issued a request for proposals around this issue in March of 2013, which was before Eves’ bill became law but during the legislative debate over it. However, Eves originally proposed a version of the bill in 2011, during the 125th Legislature, though it failed to gain enough support.

Of course, the ASPIRE program provided training to help TANF recipients access training long before LePage or Eves was in office.

While LePage and Eves can argue over who started implementing the changes first, the premise of this post — that despite LePage’s public statements, Democrats do have some common welfare reform goals — remains intact.



Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.