By Sherwood Olin
George Green warmly greets Maine Gov. Paul LePage prior to the governor’s address to the Lincoln County Republican Committee in Waldoboro Feb. 18. Lincoln County Republican Committee Chair Stuart Smith looks on. (Sherwood Olin photo)
Taking to the road to rally support for his proposed budget, Maine Gov. Paul LePage brought his case to the people Wednesday night, appearing before the monthly meeting of the Lincoln County Republican Committee Feb. 18.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage lays out the argument in favor of his budget proposal in front of the Lincoln County Republican Committee Feb. 18. (Sherwood Olin photo)
The meeting was hosted by the Waldoboro GOP Committee at the Charles C. Lilly American Legion Post 149. LePage was a relatively late addition to the agenda, which also featured an appearance by Maine Commissioner of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew.
Given a warm welcome, LePage spoke for more than hour, answering questions and breaking the room up several times with comedic, occasionally self-deprecating one-liners.
Having just unveiled his proposed $6.3 billion biennial budget, LePage said he was making an effort to get out ahead of a great deal of misinformation expected from opponents, namely Democratic legislators, the Maine Municipal Association, and local officials under the MMA’s sway.
MMA has already come out against his budget, LePage said, but he dismissed their concern. MMA works for the interests of its member communities, he said, but it does not necessarily work for the people of Maine.
“MMA works for the communities,” LePage said. “I work for the people who live in those communities. That’s the difference.”
As presented by LePage in Waldoboro last Wednesday, the sum total of his proposals would put more money in the pockets of Maine residents, make Maine more attractive to businesses and young families, and set the state up for the long haul.
“Some people look at today,” LePage said late in his talk. “I am looking ahead 20 years, 25 years. I am looking to my children and grandchildren.”
LePage said his budget proposals center around three priorities: lowering the income tax, lowering and broadening the sales tax, and energy reform.
LePage’s budget proposals project a $300 million tax reduction for Maine residents by 2017, obtained by lowering the top individual income tax rate from 7.95 percent to 5.75 percent, a step toward his stated long-term goal of eliminating the state’s income tax entirely within the next seven years; cutting the top corporate income tax rate from 8.93 to 6.75 percent, cutting and repealing pension taxes, and repealing Maine’s estate tax to preserve the state’s family businesses.
As explained by LePage, reducing and eventually eliminating the income tax will put more money in the pockets of Maine residents who should use some of the money to stimulate the economy via their increased purchasing power.
LePage said local officials may have to raise taxes to make up for the loss of revenue sharing, however, the reduction and eventual elimination of the income tax means Mainers will have more money available to afford a tax increase.
Answering a question late in his address, LePage said the people closest to their government would have a better idea whether a tax increase was justified.
“My point is, are they going to raise taxes? I don’t know. They might have to, but the people who are going to make that decision” are the local taxpayers, he said.
“The best government is the closest to its residents,” he said.
Unlike school consolidation, which LePage described as a “top-down” mandate imposed by the state, his budget proposals would leave municipalities free to decide for themselves where consolidation makes sense. Neighboring towns could decide whether to share administrators, public officials, and public works departments, and in the end, local taxpayers would decide the merits of local consolidation for themselves.
“What we are doing instead of revenue sharing is we are giving it straight to the taxpayer,” LePage said.
In other comments, LePage said Maine needs to revamp its energy policy to make it more friendly to voters.
“Folks, we can get rid of our income tax, but if we don’t do anything about energy, we are going to go broke,” he said.
LePage said Maine was hamstrung by the 100-megawatt limit on energy production sources other than wind and solar. Raising or eliminating those “artificial” limits would allow Maine to take advantage of its position between Quebec and Boston, buying energy from one and selling it to the other at a small profit for the state.
LePage said the state is not a large enough market by itself to build a larger natural gas pipeline, suggesting Maine come together with the other New England states to build the infrastructure that can allow Maine to access natural gas from sources in Pennsylvania and Quebec.
LePage also noted Maine is situated between two nuclear power plants, in Quebec and New Hampshire, and therefore needed to have a nuclear energy policy whether it wanted one or not.
LePage closed his remarks commenting on the ugly nature of state politics, noting state level politics are as nasty as any. The last gubernatorial campaign got negative so fast, he quipped, he even started hating himself.
He acknowledged the budget still has to go through the Legislature. Even if the numbers change, LePage said he remains committed to his priorities.
“We need to get people in Augusta to open their minds,” he said. “I don’t know if they have all the answers, but if you rattle enough cages, you get results.”