AUGUSTA – Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler leveled criticism Wednesday at campaign promises by Republican nominee Paul LePage that Cutler said would increase Maine’s budget deficit.

During a news conference at the State House, Cutler said LePage’s promises to eliminate estate and pension taxes, create a 5 percent flat income tax and reduce excise and “sin” taxes by 25 percent would increase Maine’s budget shortfall to $2.1 billion.

Cutler said that figure includes the already anticipated $800,000 structural gap, which is the difference between what the state’s spending levels are expected to be and the expected revenue.

“It turns out Paul LePage is doing just as much pandering as Libby Mitchell,” Cutler said. “It’s one type of irresponsibility versus another — spending, tax breaks, lower taxes, borrowing — they all increase the burden, they all impose more and more burdens on families in the state of Maine.”

A poll released Wednesday shows LePage and Mitchell, the Democratic nominee, virtually tied in Maine’s gubernatorial race and Cutler is third, trailing both by about 20 percentage points. Election Day is Nov. 2.

“You can’t make these kinds of promises, growing the deficit to almost three times what it is today, before you even start trying to reduce spending,” Cutler said. “The first job the governor is going to have when he or she takes office in January is going to be to prepare a budget. And that budget is going to be balanced, and Paul LePage is digging himself a hole that he’s not going to be able to get himself out of.”

Cutler, who served in the federal Office of Management and Budget during the Carter administration, said he intends to provide a budget that is “responsibly balanced.”

LePage, in response to Cutler, said Cutler is entitled to his own opinion but he wasn’t planning to make all of the tax cuts on Day One.

“He’s making the assumption, which I think blows the entire press conference apart, is that you are going to do all that on Day One, and I don’t think that’s rational or reasonable,” LePage said. “Those are things that you plan to do over the course of your administration and, hopefully, two administrations.”

LePage did say Wednesday that eliminating pension taxes, even if it did cost $100 million, would be an immediate priority.

There are also ways to fulfill some of the promises he has made without spending additional money, LePage said.

For example, Cutler said that because LePage promised the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine he would guarantee that 20 percent of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife budget would come from the general fund, it would increase the deficit by $12 million.

“Let me tell you how you solve that one without spending one more penny: You include IF&W into the tourism industry,” LePage said. “Isn’t hunting and fishing bringing in tourists? So shouldn’t they share in that revenue? They never have before.”

But Cutler said the entire tourism budget is only $9 million, “so the math doesn’t even work.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

rmetzler@mainetoday.com