By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
During my run for Mayor of Lewiston, I was correctly cast as a clone of Governor Paul LePage. We both have tempers. We speak often in the vernacular of the street (talk like common people).
We do what we feel is the right thing. We do not worry about re-election. We both shrug off criticism. However, we now find ourselves on opposite sides over the current effort to reform welfare.
Who is right? Well, from where we both sit, he as Governor and I as Mayor of Lewiston, we are both right. The Governor is taking on an entrenched, runaway welfare system in which taxpayers’ money is hemorrhaging and being sopped up by undeserving individuals and their enabling advocates—this to the detriment of the truly deserving.
Being a good steward, he and his staff introduced legislation to address the problem.
It is this legislation that presents a major, as-yet-undetermined financial problem to Lewiston, Auburn and several other service centers throughout Maine. This legislation would increase the local taxes in service communities while cutting state taxes.
In light of this welfare issue and a desire to bring economic development, jobs and better infrastructure to our respective communities, a Mayors’ Coalition was created. Members include Lewiston, Auburn, Bangor, Portland, Biddeford, Augusta, Waterville, Westbrook and South Portland.
Since taking office, the LePage Administration has done an outstanding job in uncovering corruption in several state agencies. This corruption results when one party is in power for decades and everyone becomes complacent. But routing out corruption must seem as child’s play when attempting to reshape a firmly rooted welfare system that grows larger and more costly by the day.
So what puts us at odds?
The major point is a cost shift. The current state legislation, if enacted, would remove from TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) those currently about to reach the five-year program limit. This removes them from the state welfare rolls, but allows them to show up at either Lewiston or Auburn’s General Assistance Office and apply for and be given benefits.
Currently it appears that Lewiston may have to increase its welfare rolls by 327 families, and Auburn 109. This leaves one to wonder: what is the definition of temporary? How much would this cost Lewiston taxpayers? We can only guess.
Next up is what understandably causes the wrath of the Governor. Cities like Portland, Bangor and Lewiston seem to be magnets, drawing a disproportionate number of layabouts due to an abundance of housing and benefits they are “entitled” to under state law. Because of this disproportion, a formula was put in place.
The state reimburses cities and towns at a rate of 50 percent of the welfare costs they incur. When a city or town reaches a predetermined amount, their reimbursement is automatically increased to 90 percent of their cost, starting at the predetermined number.
This is a major stumbling block for Lewiston, Auburn and several other communities. If enacted, this change—in addition to picking up those coming off TANF—will drive Lewiston and Auburn’s mil rate through the roof.
The third issue deals with those needing state-supported housing. Under this “entitlement,” a limit of three months in each year would be placed on the recipient. Once the three-month limit is reached, the benefit would stop until the following year.
I will stop here. I have laid out the problems. Next week I will continue on this subject, letting you, the taxpayers, know what is going on behind the scenes. After that, we’ll talk solutions.
I will leave you with this dire prediction. After a month of going back and forth to Augusta, I have come to the conclusion that Governor Paul LePage is the last hope for taxpayers who seek a welfare system that is efficiently run, fraud-free and helps those who truly need help.
To accomplish this, it is time to allow those who deal daily with these problems, our welfare directors, to come together and using their expertise to compose laws that will do what the taxpaying public demands.
Governor LePage is the only politician in Augusta with the intestinal fortitude to bring real change to the state’s welfare system.