LePage’s consultant makes a $575 million multiplication error

by Flickr user Martin CathraeOnce upon a time there was a slightly crazy but very rich old man who dreamed of living in a certain kind of house. The structure in his mind had an strange architecture that was slanted and angled all in the same direction so that no matter where you stood, you could only see one side.

The man looked everywhere for a house that matched his fevered imaginings, but all he found were normal houses with straight walls, built to local building codes. Finally, the man decided to take action. He found a contractor and crew with a reputation for being willing to bend a few rules and paid them a huge amount of money to construct the mansion of his dreams.

The man watched with anticipation as his tilted monstrosity was hammered into existence and then he smiled as he surveyed the completed structure and saw that it matched the image in his mind.

But then a strange thing happened. With a loud splintering of wood, the house sagged and then collapsed in on itself, leaving the man with the deed to nothing more than a ruined heap. He later found out that the shady contractor had used the wrong mix of cement when pouring the foundation.

This heavy-handed parable (moral: always buy builder’s risk insurance) has nothing at all to do with the fact that the ridiculously-biased report by the Alexander Group on MaineCare expansion commissioned by Governor LePage (this newspaper called it “a failure” and “a political document disguised as impartial analysis created at taxpayers’ expense”) has been found by an outside analyst to contain at least one fundamental calculation error.

Apparently, in addition to the report’s many politically-motivated failings and omissions, the authors of the study used the wrong federal matching rate in their baseline calculations, overstating the future costs of current MaineCare programs by $575 million. It’s not yet clear if similar calculation errors were part of their analysis of the proposed expansion.

Normally, when challenged on an issue like this, a legitimate policy analyst will respond with a voluminous explanation and their complete excel spreadsheets. If proven wrong, they’ll issue a correction. So far, however, the Alexander Group has offered only two short and contradictory statements that in no way explain the discrepancy. Both Mario Moretto and Amy Fried do a great job of picking them apart.

It will be interesting to see what comes next. Will the authors be forced to reveal their calculations and amend their report? Will they be allowed to continue with the rest of their nearly $1 million contract? Will members of the media keep quoting the report alongside much-more-legitimate studies that show expansion will boost both state revenue and Maine’s economy? Time will tell.

LePage and his administration have put forward this report as the main argument against accepting federal health care funding. It’s a policy direction that would lead to human suffering and loss of life. The very least that should be asked of them is that they get their math right.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald