NEWPORT – Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that the state government remains too big and too expensive, and part of the problem is the state work force.

“The problem is, middle management of the state is about as corrupt as can be,” he said.

LePage made the comments during a town hall meeting at Nokomis Regional High School. A questioner asked why there are so many fees to get a cosmetology license in the state. The governor said it’s because lawmakers, through the years, have had to find more ways to pay for larger government.

While he can control appointed state workers, such as his commissioners, LePage said he has little power over protected workers in middle management or unionized state employees.

He told the audience of about 50 people that Republicans have made progress in the last two years, but voters must be careful about the decisions they make in November’s legislative elections.

“I urge everyone to talk to their candidates,” he said. “Keep their feet to the fire. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, we need to get the work done in Augusta.”

Thursday’s event was LePage’s 15th Capitol for a Day town hall meeting. He started the series of meetings in each Maine county shortly after he became governor in January 2011.

He will likely complete the 16-county series in June with an event in Kennebec County, said his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett.

Thursday’s meeting in Penobscot County drew fewer people than other town hall meetings, which have drawn 200 people or more.

Noticeably absent were LePage opponents — the so-called “61 percenters” — who typically stand outside town halls with protest signs and ask pointed questions. LePage was accompanied by five members of his Cabinet, including the commissioners of labor, transportation, and health and human services.

One audience member asked about a welfare program that provides funds to Mainers to pay for car repairs. He said he and some repair shops have seen people on welfare get money from the state based on a car repair estimate, then never come in to get the work done.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said she has her fraud unit looking into that situation, and problems with other welfare programs.

“Who receives the money?” she said. “How are we handling the delivery of the money? It’s a level of concern about the overall management of these programs we are taking a look at.”

While talking about education, the governor said schools have “failed miserably” in the last 20 years in preparing all students for the work force.

He said he has offered to help teachers get better training by providing additional funds for professional development, if the teachers union contributes funds as well.

“I’ve made the offer three times and I’m still waiting for an answer,” he said.

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com