The campaign was good to Gov. LePage. Besides ending in an election that gave the governor a resounding victory and another four years in office, it also provided him with plenty of opportunities to hone his message and smooth the rough edges of his public persona.

An at-ease LePage was on display in his State of the State address Tuesday night, as he struck a somewhat bipartisan tone while passionately defending his budget proposal. It’s a tack he’ll have to stick to if he is going to sell the plan not only to rival Democrats, but also to fellow Republicans, who thus far have offered only tepid support. The governor has two audiences here, both of which have to be persuaded if he is going to keep whole a budget that he sees as his lasting legacy.

He gave his pitch Tuesday, in an address that stood in marked contrast to the combative and scolding speech that LePage offered a year ago.


In the 2014 State of the State, the governor decried “liberal politicians” who were “taking us down a dangerous path.” In addressing lawmakers who backed MaineCare expansion, LePage departed from prepared remarks, telling them, “Shame on you.”

Then, in what was basically a campaign speech, LePage laid out a series of initiatives that had little chance of passing the Democratic-led Legislature but which set the battlefield for the upcoming election.

This time around, LePage kept the swagger but lost almost all of the sneer. “Friends, I can’t do it alone,” he said near the top of the speech. “I need your help. We must do it together.”

That was likely aimed at Republicans as much as Democrats. Both will have a say in passing the budget, and both have concerns about LePage’s proposal.

It’s not a surprise that Democrats are a tough sell, given their history with the governor and the state of politics in general.

But at least there is a starting point for agreement in LePage’s proposal to increase and broaden the sales tax, a plan very similar to the one passed by Democrats in 2009.

The tax reform initiative was overturned at the ballot box the following year, with help from Republicans, many of whom owe their seats in the Legislature in part to the public’s disgust about the tax increases.

That makes it somewhat problematic to support LePage’s initiative, which is far more comprehensive than the 2009 proposal but still similar, and it means the governor has to first win over his own party.


He should start by providing more detail about how his plan, when all is said and done, will result in an overall tax decrease for most Mainers. The governor has touted the “$300 million” in tax cuts in the budget, although the real number is $267 million, and it is unclear how those cuts, targeted toward wealthier Mainers, will be felt by residents who are usually more concerned with property and sales taxes.

For Democrats, LePage also will have to give more than his word that the tax cuts in the budget will spur enough economic activity to offset the loss of revenue.

And both sides will have to be convinced that property taxes won’t rise as a result of the tax reform, particularly in the rural areas that will feel the greatest impact from the elimination of municipal revenue-sharing.

This is new territory for the governor, having to convince even some of his close allies that he is right. And this is a particularly complicated pitch, for a budget with so many moving parts that everyone can find something to love and something to hate. Tuesday night was a good start, but he’s got a long way to go.