Sunday, March 9, 2014
By JOSIE HUANG
James Soule, candidate for South Portland City Council.
SOUTH PORTLAND — New Mayor James Soule shocked the political establishment Monday by proposing that South Portland and its neighbors secede from Maine, an ''oppressive regime'' that withholds the communities' rightful amount of state aid.
Soule, whom city councilors elected Monday to a yearlong term as mayor, said the state uses the relative wealth of southern Maine to keep its coffers flush but gives the region disproportionately less in aid for schools and roads.
South Portland alone generates more than $45 million a year in sales taxes, most of it from the Maine Mall area, Soule said. The city receives about $4.1 million in state assistance for its schools -- about 10 percent of the school budget, he said.
''The state of Maine needs South Portland more than South Portland needs the state of Maine,'' Soule said in his inaugural address to about 35 people in the council chambers.
While secession was a little radical for some of Soule's fellow councilors, they said they share his frustration and hope that his proposal will reinvigorate the statewide dialogue about revenue-sharing.
Soule said he was organizing more than a conversation-starter. He said that during his term as mayor he will do everything he can to explore the idea of a 51st state, composed of Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc counties and possibly communities on their periphery.
He could have trouble finding someone to start the secession process by submitting a bill.
''I'm really kind of speechless,'' said state Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-South Portland. ''To throw in the towel and say, 'I quit and I'm taking my friends and make my own state' is shocking.''
A spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci laughed when he heard about Soule's proposal, calling it ''silly'' and ''counterproductive.''
''It's too bad someone is using their time in front of the mic to talk about something like that,'' David Farmer said.
Farmer said Soule's proposal ignores the hundreds of millions of new dollars the state has funneled to education in recent years -- or other things the state does for the collective community, such as maintaining highways and protecting the environment.
Soule, though, said he has gauged support in other communities for secession, and said in his speech that ''in fact, the council chair in Freeport has stated it is time for York and Cumberland counties to secede from the state.''
Rich DeGrandpre, elected as Freeport's Town Council chairman last month, said he did not recall speaking with Soule or making that statement, but he could undertstand Soule's frustration. Freeport's shopping district helps it generate more than $30 million in sales taxes each year, but the town gets only about $2 million in state funding for schools, DeGrandpre said.
South Portland City Councilor Linda Boudreau said she wants to have discussions with municipalities that have similar concerns before moving on to a secession campaign.
She said she has no doubt Soule, with whom she served on the council in the early '90s, will be ''aggressive.'' ''I think he would move some resolution next week if everybody was willing to go that way.''
Soule, who in his speech also discussed the need to hire more police officers and work more with other local governments, spoke light-heartedly at times about secession. He played around with the idea of calling a new state ''South Maine'' or ''Southern Maine.''
He said, however, ''I'm very serious about the need for South Portland and other municipalities to state their case for secession from the state of Maine.''
Staff Writer Josie Huang can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: