AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage urged fellow Republicans at the party convention Sunday to reform welfare, saying structural changes must be made to a system that is “cannibalizing the rest of state government.”

While he said he supports programs for the elderly and disabled, he thinks others should not continue to receive benefits.

“To all you able-bodied people out there, get off the couch and get yourself a job,” he said, prompting a standing ovation.

The governor received an enthusiastic response from a convention that was often divided this weekend between Ron Paul supporters and those who back Mitt Romney. But the crowd at the Augusta Civic Center was near unanimous in its support for the sitting governor, who spoke of what he described as modest successes, such as tax cuts and pension reform, and the need for deeper welfare program cuts.

“The time to fix this problem is now,” he said. “We need real structural change in Augusta. There is such a thing as a free lunch. But you’re picking up the tab. Maine’s welfare program is cannibalizing the rest of state government.”

He made a brief reference to his recent comments that angered many state workers. During a town hall forum last month, he referred to middle managers in state government as “corrupt.”

“We need to create a culture in Augusta that’s a can-do culture, not a no culture,” LePage said Sunday.

On energy, he said it’s important to find ways to help Mainers save money. He said former Gov. Angus King, an independent who is running for U.S. Senate, has made a lot of money from his wind power projects.

“Before the media coronates him, let me do it,” he said. “Angus King is the king of the wind cartel. Yes, he’s likable, but let’s not forget he has made a fortune off your backs.”

LePage spoke directly to the state lawmakers in the audience when he said he will not support a new borrowing package unless the budget is balanced and the bills are paid. He mentioned debts owed to hospitals as an example of unpaid bills.

Lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee recently approved a $95.6 million bond package with bipartisan support that will be considered by the full Legislature when it returns May 15.

“A bond is a loan that has interest attached to it,” LePage said. “I refuse to allow bonds to be passed until the Maine Legislature balances its budget and pays its bills.”

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

scover@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @smcover