What Forbes said about their conversation with LePage

Posted Wednesday, December 21, 2011 in Analysis

What Forbes said about their conversation with LePage

by Gina Hamilton

Somebody is wearing rather hot pants right now in Augusta, and his name is Governor Paul LePage.  After Forbes Magazine came out with its 'Best for Business' issue, ranking Maine dead last ... again ... after a year of the LePage administration, the Governor made some statements about why the magazine thought that Maine's business climate was so poor.  What we didn't know at the time was that Forbes had actually met with the governor and told him exactly what the problems were.

And guess what? The reasons Forbes gave had no resemblance to the reasons LePage stated.

At a town hall meeting in Salem Township last Wednesday, LePage said Forbes Magazine told him welfare and energy costs led to Maine’s ranking as the least business-friendly state in the magazine’s annual rankings.

That came as a surprise to Forbes, because by late Friday, Forbes senior editor Kurt Badenhausen published a response on Forbes.com titled, “Gov. LePage Stretches Truth on Forbes Rankings.”

“Sorry Governor, but I didn’t say any of those things,” Badenhausen wrote. “Welfare? Not even a part of the rankings.

“We should not be surprised at this point that a politician took one piece of information and made a giant leap to fit his particular agenda. ... The level of deception and confusion in politics has seemingly never been higher.”

However, LePage refused to walk back his comments. His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, told us that Badenhausen had told the administration that Maine had 'structural problems'.  She said that LePage interpreted those comments to mean energy prices and welfare.

At the town hall meeting, LePage spoke to the crowd of about 100 people about the Forbes ranking.  "We wanted to know why we were ranked so low," LePage said, "so we asked them.

“They said, ‘You made some efforts and you’ve done some good things in some areas, but you absolutely ignored the structural problems,’ which are our welfare and our energy,” LePage said. “And they said, ‘Unless you get your fiscal house in order and you address energy, you address work force development, and you get yourself in a situation so that you spend within your means, you’re in the cellar.’

“We’re starting out with welfare, because we’re going broke,” LePage added.

Badenhausen, who oversees the annual rankings list, said he spoke with John Butera, senior economic advisor, before the meeting.  Badenhausen maintains that neither energy costs nor welfare was discussed. He was bewildered as to where LePage got the idea that energy and welfare were concerns for Forbes.

Bennett tried her best to stem the growing 'pants on fire' criticism by saying that LePage wasn't trying to quote Forbes at the town hall meeting.  "It's just how he talks," she said.  "That kind of one-on-one thing, you know."  She also said that when LePage was talking about welfare, he didn't mean DHHS spending, he meant the general welfare of the state.

Which explains, of course, why he is slashing DHHS spending.

Forbes' six categories are business costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life.

Energy costs are included as part of business costs, Badenhausen said. But he said he never told the LePage administration they needed to improve energy costs to move up in the rankings. Maine ranked 44th in business costs, 50th in growth prospects, 45th in regulatory climate and 28th in labor supply.

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