AUGUSTA – Energy, education and the economy will be Gov. Paul LePage’s three priorities for the legislative session that begins in January, he told members of the Augusta Kiwanis Club on Thursday.

In a speech to about 60 people at The Senator Inn, the Republican governor gave a brief overview of accomplishments in the first nine months of his administration, then talked about his vision for moving forward.

Among the accomplishments, he listed reforms to business regulations, an overhaul of health insurance mandates, welfare reform, tax cuts and a new state law to allow charter schools. He joked that, next week, lawmakers will return to consider nominees to nearly 100 positions, but won’t stay in Augusta for long.

“Next Tuesday, the Legislature is coming in for a day or two to do confirmations to boards and commissions, at which time they will be exhausted and then they will go home until January,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

He said energy costs are hurting businesses and citizens as they struggle to pay for electricity or to heat their homes. He believes the answer is in extending natural gas lines throughout the state.

“We are going to be meeting with a lot of natural gas companies throughout the country and the Canadian side to try to bring natural gas to the state of Maine,” he said. “We are in a great position to bring competition to heating oil.”

LePage said hydro power and nuclear energy face too many state and federal regulations to be timely or affordable.

On the issue of education, LePage emphasized the importance of having good teachers and repeated his belief that not every child needs to go to college.

“If we do that, we are going to run out of plumbers and electricians, carpenters and millwrights,” he said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know if you’ve hired a plumber lately, but they do pretty well.”

There are 20,000 job openings in Maine, particularly in manufacturing, but not enough skilled workers to fill them, he said.

To help the economy, LePage said he wants to continue to lower taxes by getting rid of the income tax on pensions. He said he wants to keep well-off retirees in Maine and help those who are struggling to better afford to live in the state.

Estimates from Maine Revenue Services show that eliminating the income tax on pensions would cost $93 million a year. LePage has not said whether he will target a certain category — such as military pensions or state workers’ pensions — which would lower the cost.

The governor said he disagrees with Democrats who said that the last round of tax cuts — which included lowering the top income tax rate and increasing the estate tax exemption from $1 million to $2 million — would cost the state $400 million in revenue.

“The other side of the coin is, these tax cuts will put $400 million back into the economy,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

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