Governor Paul LePage took the stage Tuesday night in a town hall meeting at Windham High School. He addressed the audience first focusing on four areas that concern most Mainers and laying out plans he had to combat the issues in a state of the state-like speech. The first issue was income tax, then energy costs, continuing to reform the welfare system and finally student debt.
“We compete globally,” LePage said. People and businesses go where they are welcome and stay where they are wanted, he added. The top 10 states with the strongest economy do not have income tax and many of those don’t have sales tax. Maine is not on that list.
He pointed out that many companies are relocating to Texas because the regulations are predictable and they “don’t tax people to death.” LePage said his number one goal is to lower the income tax and get rid of it all together by moving to a consumption based tax with reductions for youth and those on fixed incomes. He would like to eliminate the state tax by 2025.
In the last five years, energy has become his number one issue and Maine is falling behind. “We have a renewable portfolio of 64 percent which is the highest in the country,” he said. “We are paying a very high price for that.” LePage said that legislators have signed $198 million in above market rate energy contracts to special interests over the last 20 years. “They don’t care for you. They care for the next election.”
He spoke about solar energy and wind power, which is better than solar, neither are more than 25 percent efficient. Hydro power is 90 percent efficient. LePage said that 10,000 homes in Maine have converted to heat pumps after seeing the numbers and learning that it’s a highly efficient way to heat homes. He would like to buy cheaper energy from Canada, and we should fight like crazy to bring natural gas into Maine.
“Every dollar we spend on energy we are not spending in wages,” LePage said.
Maine needs welfare reform, LePage said. Maine is number three for providing welfare behind Washington DC and Vermont. “I’m fighting for number four,” he said. For Maine to get to number 25, the midpoint, $6,700 has to be cut to $2,500 in entitlements per resident.
He told a story about a woman who was writing to governors to find out which state could provide her with the best benefits. “I told her ‘ask not what we can do for you, but what you can do for us’,” he said. He said he had nothing against someone asking for a hand up when they need it, but he doesn’t want to see able bodied people working.
Another issue he talked about was student debt. Where people with advanced degrees pay $3,000 a month in student loans, this is a problem. He is working with Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) to lower the cost the debt. One solution would be to encourage people in science, technology, engineering and math fields to be in Maine by having half their debt paid off after five years of work and then after 10 years pay off the rest. To do this, LePage estimated it would cost $10 million dollars put into FAMEs budget. “Everybody is competing for the best people,” he said. This could make Maine more marketable.
He is currently asking the legislature to approve a measure that if an employer pays off student loans for an employee the boss would get a dollar for dollar return on their taxes. He would also like to see more online education and better use of technology within the state education system.
Maine is the oldest state in the union with a median age of 44. Bringing people to Maine to fill rural industries and bringing back manufacturing would help our economy.
LePage took a few detours from his four listed items to talk about making laws and abiding by them and where money goes, for example, money being reallocated to “sanctuary cities” where asylum seekers come for the services.
He only mentioned once the failed impeachment. “Special interest runs the state. When you fight back they try to impeach me,” he said.
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During the question and answer portion of the town hall meeting the following topics were discussed: Drug rehabilitation treatments, how prescription drugs are over used and over prescribed, National fines put on the state for $29 million because federal laws are in direct opposition to Maine laws, consolidation from local control to county control, welfare fraud, gun control, expansion of heathcare and the moral compass of Maine residents. LePage had answers for all of them. Not all of his answers were popular with the audience. Dr. Jane Pringle of Windham, a former representative, asked about the expansion of Medicaid, which was the only heated conversation of the night with LePage refusing to hear arguments that expansion is the way to go. “ACA and Medicaid is going broke,” he said. States that expanded are now deep in the red, he added.
At the end of the night, he closed with “I try to be straight forward and tell you the truth.”