GORHAM — Gov. Paul LePage suggested Wednesday night that he would like to see the Maine Turnpike Authority merge with the Maine Department of Transportation, believing it would lead to the elimination of most tolls.

LePage made the remarks during a town hall meeting in Gorham before a largely friendly audience of about 150 people.

The governor said the idea could take as long as a decade to come to fruition, but ultimately the state would have just one tollbooth, in Kittery.

“The only toll we should have is for the visitors coming in and out of the state in the summer months,” he said, adding that Mainers who commute to New Hampshire for work would be offered a tax credit for their tolls.

Currently, the southernmost tollbooth is in York.

LePage said to make the plan work he would to suspend the turnpike authority’s ability to borrow and eventually have the transportation department maintain the 108 miles of turnpike highway.

He didn’t offer many details on the idea, but said he remembers when the turnpike was built under the promise tolls would be eliminated once the highway was paid for.

Hans Hansen of Gorham Staff photo by Derek Davis

LePage was responding to a question from Gorham resident Hans Hansen, who asked LePage to support a turnpike bypass plan that would connect Gorham to the Maine Mall area.

LePage did so, saying, “I have no problem with it.”

After the meeting, Hansen said he appreciated LePage’s idea to eliminate the tolls, but didn’t sound completely convinced the governor would be able to pull it off. “Everybody wants a free ride but we all got to pay somewhere,” Hansen said.

LePage received compliments from several members in the audience for his efforts to boost the economy and cut taxes. He also touched on the handful of themes he has championed at previous town meetings, including lowering energy costs, reducing taxes, and reforming welfare and education.

On education, the governor elaborated on a pilot project his administration has embarked on that’s aimed at building collaboration and finding efficiencies for public school administration. LePage said he was offering to help school districts that work together to find savings with $3 million he has carved out of the budget.

He noted his current budget proposal would eliminate state funding for local school superintendents. The governor long has argued that funding isn’t reaching the classrooms, saying that’s where it is needed, because the state’s schools are top heavy with superintendents.

LePage detailed several examples of school districts in Bangor and in southern Maine that had come up with proposals he said were “phenomenal.” LePage’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett told the crowd that 21 districts had offered ideas that would cost about $7 million to implement but would save about $20 million. They include ideas to consolidate special education programs and many administrative functions, including purchasing, human resources and others.

“All that money saved will go back into the classroom,” LePage said. He then pointed to a graph that showed steady increases for state spending on schools while student enrollment has steadily declined. “That’s the issue folks, and we are getting to the point where something has to give and the best place to do it is not in the teacher ranks but in the superintendents’ ranks.”

LePage has been to Washington, D.C., several times in the last few weeks and said he would be returning again in April or May to lobby officials on reversing former President Barack Obama’s creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

LePage also said he had not decided if he would run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Angus King, an independent, in 2018. LePage said he had not convinced his wife, Ann LePage, that a run against King would be a good idea.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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