AUGUSTA — Two interest groups pushed back against Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposals Monday by releasing poll results that they say show he is out of step with average Mainers.

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections gave MaineToday Media an advance copy of a poll it will release today, showing that 82 percent of those surveyed said it is “somewhat or very important” to continue to have the Maine Clean Election Act program.

On Friday, LePage’s top budget official released a package of proposed budget changes that would eliminate public financing for gubernatorial candidates.

In the poll conducted by Pan Atlantic SMS Group from April 25 to May 2, 77 percent of the respondents said they do not think the Legislature should repeal Clean Election financing for those who run for governor.

The poll of 401 registered Maine voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

LePage is proposing to transfer $3.3 million from the Clean Election fund to help balance the budget. It’s one of the proposed changes to the budget prompted by a new $164 million gap caused by lower-than-expected revenue and continued demand for state Medicaid services.

Ending public financing in gubernatorial races would mean that only candidates who are rich or adept at raising money would have a chance to run for governor, said Alison Smith of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

“It would widen the gap between people raising money and the people who can write themselves one big check,” she said. “The power of big money, people understand as a threat to what people hold dear.”

Also Monday, supporters of the Fund for a Healthy Maine gathered at the State House to oppose a $17 million transfer out of the state’s tobacco settlement fund to help balance the budget. The group pointed to its own survey, from February, that showed 91 percent think the fund should be used to prevent disease, promote health and reduce future health care costs.

Supporters of the fund also repeated their call for a $1.50-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax, saying it would reduce smoking among youths and raise additional money to help close the budget gap.

“Raising the price of tobacco is one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox,” said Tina Chapman, president of the United Way of Mid-Maine in Waterville.

More than 66 percent of Mainers surveyed said they would support a $1.50-per-pack tax increase, according to the group.

The lobbying will continue this week as lawmakers prepare to take testimony Wednesday on the governor’s newest budget proposals. The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take public testimony starting at 1 p.m. The meeting is likely go into the evening, with a crowd of people expected to testify against a proposal that would eliminate health care coverage for some who are enrolled in Medicaid.

An estimated 28,000 Mainers – childless adults and parents of children who receive Medicaid from a federal program – will lose coverage in January if the proposal is adopted by lawmakers.

The administration also is proposing to eliminate 259 state positions, implement a managed care system in the Department of Health and Human Services and reduce a $20 million transfer to the Department of Transportation to $10 million.

The proposed Clean Election changes are consistent with other bills pending in the Legislature that propose major changes to the system. In 1996, 56 percent of voters supported creating the system, which provides taxpayers’ money for legislative and gubernatorial candidates who meet eligibility requirements.

More than 80 percent of legislative candidates used the funding in last year’s elections. In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Libby Mitchell used the money in the primary and general elections, and Democrat Patrick McGowan and Republican Peter Mills participated in the program to fund their primary runs.

LePage did not participate in the program; he raised his funds privately.

Gubernatorial candidates get as much as $600,000 in the primary and $1.2 million for the general election. No candidate who has participated in the program has been elected governor.

Through the years, Smith said, support for the program has continued to grow.

“The longer we have it, the more people like it,” she said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]