WATERVILLE — Gov. Paul LePage on Monday previewed the pitch he’ll make when he kicks off a statewide tour this week to tout his proposed $6.3 billion budget and tax overhaul plan.

Speaking to about 50 members of the Waterville Rotary Club, LePage said increasing and broadening the state sales tax, ending revenue sharing payments to municipalities and eliminating the income tax will allow Mainers, and not government, to determine where the money they earn goes. The result, he said, is Mainers will have more money in their pockets.

“The most efficient government is the government that operates closest to the people, and what I’m trying to do is get government out of your lives and leave it at the local level,” LePage said.

A former Waterville mayor and longtime Waterville Rotarian, LePage faced no opposition Monday from the group at the Alfond Youth Center, which included many of his old friends and business associates.

LePage said he plans to travel around the state and meet with Mainers two to three times a week to tout his budget plan and seek support for it.

WESTBROOK MEETING

The first public meeting on LePage’s tour will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the performing arts center in Westbrook, and another is planned for the Bangor area in March, according to LePage. His staff is working out a schedule for further meetings, he said.

The intent of his budget, he said, is to eliminate the income tax and send the money back to communities so people can decide what services they want and who is going to pay for them. He said every day he hears people say their towns cannot do without revenue sharing and cannot afford property tax increases.

“I wasn’t elected by a town – I was elected by the people who live in that town,” he said.

The governor said his plan would give people more money than is currently paid to communities as revenue sharing.

For instance, Waterville taxpayers currently pay $9.7 million a year in state income taxes, while the state sends Waterville $1 million in revenue sharing, LePage said.

Winslow gets $393,780 in revenue sharing and pays the state $7.4 million in income taxes. Belgrade gets $91,000 from the state in revenue sharing and pays $4.9 million a year in income tax.

“So, folks, my mission is to eliminate the income tax, and there are only a few towns that will pay a significant portion of the budget that is revenue sharing – the highest percentage of a community budget,” he said.

He cited as an example the town of Lovell, which has fewer than 2,000 residents and gets $18,000 in revenue sharing, but its taxpayers pay $398,000 in income tax. Falmouth, he said, gets $457,000 in revenue sharing annually and pays $41.1 million in income taxes.

Revenue sharing is issued now to local governments, but the people do not see it, LePage said. “I firmly believe that you ought to know what’s going on.”

The governor said he first wants to eliminate the estate tax, then the income tax on military pensions, followed by the state income tax on pensions. He claimed that will help keep people in Maine and make the state more competitive.

“Right now, we’re not competitive with the income tax,” he said. “Nationally, we’re not competitive with the corporate tax.”

People should urge their communities to regionalize before considering raising their taxes, he said.

Lewiston, for instance, has a city manager, superintendent, public works director and police and fire chiefs, and the city is working with Auburn to consolidate into one city, LePage said.

He compared the scenario to that of Waterville, Winslow, Oakland and Fairfield, where, he said, with the exception of a fire chief shared by Winslow and Waterville, 23 people are administering the work.

The average school superintendent in Maine has 1,300 students, whereas the average high school in the U.S. has 1,500 students, he said. Maine has 127 superintendents, who represent 4.5 percent of a $2 billion budget. The national average percentage cost of administration in a school district is 2 percent, he said.

“It’s astronomical. When I go to Republican meetings and talk about school districts, they laugh about the cost we put in on the front end.”

‘OUT OF CONTROL’

In Florida, where LePage’s family has a home, 56 superintendents work with 2.8 million students, spending just over $10,000 per student, whereas Maine spends $15,000 to $16,000 per student, he said. In Miami, where English is a second language for the majority of students, the verbal test scores are one point behind Maine’s, he said.

“Maine has some of the lowest-paid teachers in America,” he said. “We have teachers digging into their pockets every day, buying school supplies while administration of schools is completely out of control.”

LePage said that education bills before the Legislature in the past 10 years have not included the word “student.”

He applauded partnerships between high schools and colleges to enroll high school students in college courses so they receive credit and get a jump-start on college, saying that helps to lower the cost of higher education. He said he is working on a bill that would give employers credit off their income taxes if they help young employees pay off their student loans.

Rotarian Duane Wheeler asked about LePage’s plan to tax nonprofits, saying he assumed the governor was talking about hospitals and churches, but LePage said that, constitutionally, one cannot tax churches. The key is that nursing homes and hospitals are the largest users of a municipalities’ services, and colleges and universities use police services a fair amount, he said.

If a community really cares about an organization, people should support it financially, he said. With the amount of money that would go into communities as part of his plan, nonprofit organizations should be able to persuade people to give more because they will have more, he said.

This story was updated at 11:31 a.m. Feb. 10, to correct the percentage the superintendents represent in the budget.