October 25, 2013

Two sides of LePage: He sometimes offends, but his focus is unwavering

By JOHN CHRISTIE
Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

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Gov. Paul LePage has emerged as an anti-politician with his disdain for the sometime necessary tact required of political leaders.

Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

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(Fact-checking his claim is complicated by the fact that local staffs have a variety of titles, some are part-time, some have mid-level officials, etc. But supporting the thrust of LePage’s view is the Brookings study, which cited the need to consolidate local services.)

Payne, the former head of a business group and formerly a town councilor in Falmouth, is a fiscal conservative, but the revenue sharing reduction “was not a particularly wise choice.”

“I’m not convinced the towns have a lot of fat,” but he said that may not be the case “on the schools’ side.”

Mills, the former legislator and a student of the state’s finances, said LePage may have missed an even better opportunity to fix the state’s tax system when he rejected working with an ad hoc bipartisan committee that came up with a fresh tax reform plan this year.

The group was led by independent state Sen. Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth – as Mills points out, a Harvard-educated economist.

There were obstacles, Mills said, such as the plan’s expansion of the sales tax, but it would also have eliminated many of the business tax breaks that economists say are ineffective, while reducing the income tax far more than LePage’s bill did.

“If he had got behind it, it would have picked up intense credibility,” Mills said. “And if he had gotten it through, it would have reduced the Maine income tax to four percent or thereabouts.

“It’s what economists have been telling us to do for decades – reduce the income tax and broaden the sale tax base,” Mills said. “It’s just what Reagan did with the income tax in 1986 … got rid of the gimmicks.”

But LePage rejected the bipartisan proposal because of the sales tax increases, even though they are offset by decreases elsewhere.

Instead, he has said he wants to eliminate the income tax all together by the end of his second term – if he gets one.

LePage was having lunch in the Blaine House when the legislators – including Republicans -- overrode his veto of their budget.

His reaction was resignation, not anger. And a bit of his signature sarcasm: “It’s too bad because we simply don’t want to get out of 50th place – and I just hope Puerto Rico doesn’t want to become a state,” he said, and then laughed.  “Because they are doing much better.”

Chapter 5: Enter Stage Right

“As your governor, you’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page …”

You don’t need a fact-check on that one. From his admitted “big mouth” to his attacks on the legacy policies of Democratic rule, LePage seems to be on page one every day.

For 16 years, Maine’s governors – Baldacci and King – stood slightly to the left-of-middle on most issues and rarely made news with off-hand commentaries.

Baldacci, the Democrat, is a lifetime politician, with that hale-fellow- well-met personality that suited his profession. King, now a U. S. senator, is officially an independent, but caucuses with the Democrats. He is as charming as a Reagan, speaks as well as a network anchorman and comes dressed in L.L. Bean khaki.

Three years ago, voters changed direction and along came LePage, the linebacker-shaped former homeless Franco from Lewiston who does not turn his nose up at the tea party.

As longtime friend and Waterville car dealer Charlie Gaunce said of LePage: “I’d rather have a fighter in there than a marshmallow … he’s not a great orator. We don’t need that.”

From education to energy, welfare to health care, the governor’s proposals have shaken up Augusta – which is one reason he makes the news almost every day.

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