By George Smith, Bangor Daily News columnist
Governor Paul LePage tossed out a whopper yesterday. Here it is, in his own words.
“Because Maine already expanded welfare a decade ago, Medicaid is now cannibalizing funding from all other state agencies. That means the state cannot adequately promote fishing and hunting programs or conduct research on our fisheries.”
The truth is that Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife gets no public funding, doesn’t, hasn’t, won’t. It’s impossible that the Governor doesn’t know this – because I met with him twice before he was elected to discuss this and other issues of importance to sportsmen. It’s been a constant complaint from sportsmen for decades.
At yesterday’s news conference, LePage trotted out his Commissioners from the Natural Resources Departments to make his case. That is really unfortunate. I wasn’t there, but I’m told that DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock was entertaining and engaging. That could not have been easy on this issue.
In 1993, when Governor John McKernan tried to take $1 million from the Fish and Wildlife Department, his Commissioner Bill Vail resigned his position to fight the proposal. The public hearing on that proposal occurred just two weeks after I took the position as Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
Sportsmen filled the hearing room and the halls of the Capitol and Bill Vail testified, as a private citizen, against the proposal. Bill’s testimony was electric, something I will never forget. And the Governor did not get that $1 million.
Mike Michaud was the first to actually get some General Fund public money for DIF&W, a $400,000 appropriation to help pay for the search and rescue work of the Warden Service. Mike was the Chair of the Appropriations Committee at that time, and he worked through the years to make sure that money stayed in the budget.
It was really a pittance, but appreciated none-the-less. One year DIF&W offered a detailed analysis showing it was spending nearly $10 million a year on direct services to the public. Still, the governor and legislature failed to provide the agency with public funding, and sportsmen continued to pay those bills.
And it was worse than that. Whenever the government needed money, and DIF&W had more revenue than planned, the state took the search and rescue money back. There were even years when the state raided the department’s dedicated accounts.
We had some fearsome battles over the years, for example, to protect the money raised from an instant lottery game for the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. To suggest that Medicaid is responsible for the lack of public funding for fisheries research or hunting/fishing marketing, is utterly and completely incorrect. I am trying to be polite here!
I happen to be working on a column about the lack of marketing of hunting and fishing in Maine, noting that after DIF&W’s marketing director, Bill Pierce, left the agency five or six years ago, he was never replaced.
I’ve dug out a series of marketing reports and recommendations, beginning more than a decade ago. None of those recommendations were implemented.
And in fact, even though he promised it, Governor Paul LePage, has not proposed, during his tenure, any new public funding for DIF&W. You have to go back to the days of Governor Angus King to find a time when the department actually got any significant public funding – and that was in a year when the agency overspent it’s budget and was bailed out by Governor King with $1 million in General Fund money.
The Governor’s is one Medicaid claim that will never be verified and paid.