AUGUSTA, Maine -– To muster the votes needed to pass a bill that would nullify a contract between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Alexander Group, Democrats in the Maine House Monday removed an emergency preamble on the measure that would have required two-thirds support.

However, the change virtually neuters the bill’s effectiveness because if it became law, it would not go into effect for 90 days after the Legislature adjourns later in April -– well beyond the final May 15 deadline for the Alexander Group to turn in its work.

The bill is expected to pass the House and Senate on party lines, but Gov. Paul LePage is expected to veto the measure. It’s become increasingly clear Democrats do not have the votes to override.

In September 2013, the Alexander Group was awarded a controversial $925,000 no-bid contract to examine and analyze Maine’s welfare programs, including MaineCare, and make recommendations on ways the state could save money.

Alexander Group CEO Gary Alexander, who has served as commissioner for the health and human service agencies in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, was once a top pick to head Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. He rejected the job because of the pay.

The first installment of the Alexander Group’s five-part report was delivered weeks past the contract’s target due date, and none of the other four parts of the report have been delivered to DHHS, according to department officials.

DHHS has said it has extended the contract target due dates indefinitely.

Republicans claim efforts to cancel the group’s contract by Democrats are politically motivated, but Democrats say the state is spending unnecessary money on the review, which they consider a political document meant to bolster LePage’s case against expanding Medicaid in Maine.

The effort to remove the emergency preamble and approve the bill succeeded on a 77-57 vote Monday. Six Democrats joined Republicans in opposition to the bill.

Those Democrats have said opposition to the bill was not because they support the no-bid contract, but because the Legislature is overreaching its authority by nullifying a contract entered into by the executive branch.

“I’m glad that several of our Democratic colleagues see this bill for what it is, and that is a political ploy that sets an extremely bad precedent,” House Minority Leader Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said in a prepared statement. “What company would want to do business with Maine’s state government if the Legislature just stepped in and cancelled their contract?”

But Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, has said canceling the contract is an appropriate action for the Legislature.

“I think [the Alexander Group] is in breach of contract anyway,” Gattine said last week. “The work has not been on time. The quality has been bad. … The Legislature, as guardians of the purse strings, is well within its rights to pass this law.”

Alexander has been besieged for missing deadlines and had his objectivity questioned after releasing the first portion of the study that shows expanding Medicaid in Maine would cost the state more than $800 million over 10 years. The study also suggests expanding it would cause the state’s poverty rate to increase dramatically.

But an AARP analysis of the report concluded it contained a $500 million mathematical error.

LePage and legislative Republicans have stood by Alexander, saying his consulting firm deserved the no-bid contract because Alexander is “uniquely qualified” to help the state obtain a global Medicaid waiver, which would give Maine near-total flexibility in administering its Medicaid program.

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, the Senate chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said paying the Alexander Group to finish its work was “throwing good money after bad.”

The bill now returns to the Senate.

Bangor Daily News writer Mario Moretto contributed to this report.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.