A dispute between Maine Gov. Paul LePage and the Labor Department has resulted in the governor refusing to accept more than $8 million in federal workforce training funds for the state.
LePage wanted more control over how the funds were spent, which the government agency rejected. In response, the governor is declining to spend the funds until the department relents.
Laura Hudson, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, disputed reports that the funds, part of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, had been rejected but confirmed that the governor has put them on hold. "He has opted that the state will not add an additional layer of overhead that takes money out of occupational training. We will work with the U.S. Department of Labor to identify the manner in which the federal government can continue to provide this job training funding to Maine with only one layer of administrative costs," Hudson told the Washington Examiner.
"The governor's decision will achieve his objective of getting more resources into the hands of Mainers in need of training and workforce development. We are awaiting next steps from [the Labor Department," she said.
The potential recipients of the funds are not pleased with the impasse. "There are a lot of people who are mystified by the actions of the governor's office. A lot of folks will go without the training they need to seek jobs and a lot of business will go without the workers they need," said Mike Bourret, executive director of the nonprofit Coastal Counties Workforce Board.
The Republican governor for years has sought to restructure the way the state spends the funding it receives under the act, which is divided among three nonprofit local boards run by state business: the Coastal Counties Workforce Board, the Central Western Maine Workforce Investment Board and the Northeastern Workforce Development Board, a structure that dates to when the act was created in 1998. LePage asked the Obama administration in 2012 to consolidate the three into a single, statewide board but was turned down.
He tried again under the current administration, telling Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a July letter that "because the federal funding formula requires we allocate the funds by population, we hurt our ability to target the investment in the rural areas that need the help the most." The department again rejected the request, saying that the act "explicitly prohibits the secretary from waiving any statutory or regulatory requirements."
Hudson said the governor has long tried to shrink "the size and scope of government" and eliminate the layers of bureaucracy that dilute the funds but has been stymied by federal mandates. "Several of the governor's initiatives have resulted in more money going into training; however, the Obama administration blocked efforts at significant reform," she said.