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Governor’s Address- Accountability, Flexibility and Transparency Are All Good Government

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Hello. This is Governor Paul LePage.

Back in early August, my administration sought a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would give us the flexibility to require Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card users to show photo identification.  They denied our request, saying that the use of photo ID would be ineffective in reducing fraud and abuse.

This is a shocking statement. Having spent my life in the private sector, I know businesses do not take security lightly.  If a business’s security is breached, they will lose customers.  Many commercial credit and debit cards now include a customer’s photograph on the card as an enhanced security measure, and retailers nearly always ask for ID before accepting checks.

Adding a security feature that is common in the private sector is a reasonable step to ensure that food supplement benefits paid with public dollars are spent wisely. In fact, this is why the Food and Nutrition Act specifically allows for identification to be placed on EBT cards, as New York State currently does.  There is no functional difference between placing a photograph directly on the EBT card and requiring a separate photo ID to be shown.  The same goal is achieved either way. That’s why the denial is so disturbing.

Also disturbing is the way in which our state received news of the denial. Last week, before we had even received notification of the denial, the press asked for our comment on the rejection of our request.  We reached out to USDA staff to find out what was going on.  They told us their staff had neglected to forward the rejection letter to Maine’s DHHS office, but that Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud – and the press – had already received the denial letter.

This is on the heels of a very similar scenario with the U.S. Department of Labor in which a letter was sent to Maine’s congressional offices – and promptly released to the media – before it was released to us.  Once could be an accident, twice may be a coincidence, but three times is a pattern.  That’s why I have written to the Obama Administration asking if Washington would be kind enough to send us these letters before sharing them with everyone else.

Let me be clear: we are not disturbed that the press received these letters, but rather that we had not received them first. The federal government must be held accountable for these serious mistakes in protocol and common courtesy.

Accountability is essential in state government, as well. The State of Maine employs 13-thousand people, and their public service is of vital importance to Maine people. In two years, we have lowered taxes, reduced red tape, improved permitting processes, increased education funding, and strengthened domestic violence laws.

Among the good work done every day in state agencies, there is a lot of interaction between the state and federal government. We’re doing our part in good faith, but we need the same in return. Transparency is another element necessary in government – both at state and federal levels. This is why I have directed the departments in my administration to share every transaction involving taxpayer dollars with our Maine Open Checkbook website. Today, I am proud to announce that the new site has received more than 85,000 hits. I encourage you to use this website as a tool to find out how your hard-earned tax dollars are spent.

The goal of efficient and effective government requires accountability, flexibility and transparency.  It is only when we truly work together and share these principles that we can earn the trust of our hard-working taxpayers.

Thank you,

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