SOUTH PARIS — Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network is a form of corporate welfare that the state can no longer afford.

During a town hall meeting at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, LePage was asked by an audience member why he’s proposing to cut $1.7 million that the state is scheduled to give the network for the fiscal year starting July 1.

“Why should I pay welfare to a company?” he said. “It’s that simple. I need that money to pay welfare. I need the (money) to make sure some elderly don’t freeze. Quite frankly, ma’am, I think that’s more important.”

The cut to MPBN is part of the governor’s newest supplemental budget. His proposal contains about $38 million worth of tax cuts and new spending, as well as spending cuts.

Last year, LePage proposed cutting all state funding for MPBN – about $4 million over two years. Lawmakers reduced the cut to $200,000.

As part of his Capitol for a Day program in Oxford County on Thursday, LePage and five members of his Cabinet answered a variety of questions from a crowd of more than 200 people in the high school auditorium.

It was LePage’s 14th Capitol for a Day town hall meeting, his monthly venture to a Maine county, modeled on a program of former Republican Gov. John McKernan.

The crowd appeared mostly supportive, clapping and complimenting LePage before asking questions, although at least 20 people holding protest signs greeted the governor outside the school.

Several people in the audience asked about welfare benefits and reports of fraud, and why more inmates don’t work on road projects. The governor said he wants to continue welfare reform by cracking down on people who get rid of their assets so they can qualify for Medicaid funding.

During a discussion of economic development, LePage said he hopes that an east-west highway will be built across Maine. Earlier this week, the state Senate gave initial approval to a bill to allow the Department of Transportation to pay for a feasibility study of a privately funded toll highway. The study is estimated to cost $300,000.

When asked about wind power, the governor said his priority is lowering energy costs in Maine, regardless of the source. He said wind power is too costly now and needs government funds, so he’s looking for other options.

And on the deadline day for legislative candidates to file papers to run in their party primaries, LePage said the next election will determine Maine’s course for years to come. Republicans now have majorities in the House and the Senate.

“If we want to be a welfare state, we’ll have that opportunity in November,” he said. “If we want to revive the American Dream, we can do that in November.”

In response to a question from the audience, LePage said he favors tougher penalties for drunken drivers – and used the question as an opportunity to poke fun at a rumor that he had been stopped recently for driving drunk.

He started by saying that he hasn’t driven himself anywhere since the day before he was inaugurated as governor, Jan. 5, 2011. Then, he made light of the rumor by telling a wild story.

“Let met tell you what really happened,” he said. “I got my security, I handcuffed him, threw him in the back of the car, we were going down (Interstate) 95 at 100 miles an hour, I swerved to avoid Bigfoot and I ran into Elvis Presley,” he said, drawing laughs and applause from the audience. “I have two witnesses. The Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan M. Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com