NEWCASTLE – More than 250 people, supporters and critics of Gov. Paul LePage, turned out for his Capitol For a Day town hall meeting at Lincoln Academy on Friday.

LePage answered wide-ranging questions about his administration, flanked by members of his Cabinet including Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, Transportation Commissioner Dave Bernhardt and Marine Resources Commissioner Norm Olson. He also was joined by Patty Aho, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, his senior economic adviser John Butera and state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin.

Many in the audience asked LePage about his budget proposals.

“When you are in the recession the way we are now, state government doesn’t have the resources to provide the services that Mainers have become accustomed to. We are trying to do it as equitably as we can,” he said.

Asked why he has proposed making about $200 million worth of tax cuts while cutting Medicaid and other programs, LePage said he feels the cuts would help low-income families.

“There are 635,000 taxpayers in the state of Maine — the $200 million of tax cuts is going to be spread over 439,000 taxpayers,” he said. “Anyone making below $30,000 as a family will no longer have to pay taxes, because they are already on welfare.”

He was also asked about his proposal to cut all state funding — about $2 million a year — from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

“In good conscience, you cannot ask a governor to go cut welfare on individuals and then keep corporate welfare on the books,” he said.

One audience member, citing long waiting lists for current programs, wanted to know how LePage plans to help the mentally ill transition from high school to adulthood.

“The state of Maine in the last 15 to 20 years has absolutely abandoned all people in the state of Maine with mental illness or mental defects or mental difficulties. It’s that simple,” LePage said.

He said he has spent time over the last 15 years working with mental health community programs and he hopes to “design community models rather than incarceration models.”

Answering a question about the health insurance overhaul that he signed into law this week, LePage said he is confident that it will lower costs.

“I will put up that bill against any other bill in the other 49 states because I am telling you, for once in our history of Maine, people 18 to 80 will be able to afford health insurance,” he said.

On education, LePage said he is committed to establishing a voucher system that would let parents decide where to send their children to school. “Universal choice in Maine is the only way … we need the competition,” he said.

Issues of red tape and frustrations with the DEP also were raised by the audience. LePage said there is still an “awful lot of work to be done” in the department. He lamented the loss of his commissioner, Darryl Brown, who was forced to resign because of a conflict-of-interest law.

“The minute that we found a highly professional individual to come in, someone who could run and understand it … a group just ran to the trough and found some minute, silly little thing in the law to get him to step down,” he said.

One woman in the crowd asked about proposals to allow more advertisements along roads. She said Maine’s uncluttered environment is part of what makes it a tourist destination.

LePage said he didn’t propose allowing billboards, but, “If people come to Maine to create jobs, where the hell are the jobs?”

The evening started on a light note, when one woman asked what the governor is doing to work with the federal government to move an eagle’s nest from a road.

“I absolutely believe that the federal government should put people before eagles,” LePage said. “We’ve gotten to a point in our society where people don’t count. People pay taxes, eagles don’t.”

At the end of the 90-minute meeting, the crowd gave LePage a standing ovation.

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

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