Thursday, December 12, 2013
By REBEKAH METZLER MaineToday Media State House Writer
WATERVILLE — Waterville Mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage laid out his vision for welfare reform, education, energy and health care Monday.
In a speech before an overflow Waterville Rotary Club meeting, LePage told about 100 audience members that the Maine taxpayer has been "ignored and vilified" for years.
"We need a governor that is going to pay attention to Maine people and not special interests," he said.
The Waterville Rotary invited three of the five gubernatorial candidates to address members. Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell already has spoken; independent candidate Eliot Cutler is scheduled for next week. Independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott were not invited.
At the top of his agenda for bringing fiscal conservatism to the Capitol: reforming Maine's welfare system, LePage said.
"I've been there," he said. "That is the most humiliating and degrading system that the state has allowed to happen since the 1960s. And I will tell you, my plan calls for a five-tier system, and we're going to work with people to get off welfare, not work with people to keep them on welfare."
The tiered system would provide incentives for people to join the work force by not completely cutting them off from benefits until they reached a livable wage, LePage said.
However, his reforms also would include a residency requirement and a five-year benefit limit.
"You don't come in from New Hampshire at 8 a.m. in the morning and be at full benefits by 4 p.m. in the afternoon," LePage said. "At the end of five years, if you still need welfare, I will personally buy a ticket to Massachusetts so they can start over."
On education, LePage said Maine's 20 percent high school dropout rate is unacceptable.
"I hope to get that down at least by 50 percent and, frankly, the money is already there," he said. "Currently in the state of Maine, we are in the top third in spending and in the bottom third in results. We need to flip-flop that."
LePage said he supports charter schools and voucher systems.
"A lot of people in the public education system say, 'Oh, charter schools are just going to leave us the worst students.'
"That might be true, but at the same token, you know what you are dealing with, so fix it. It can be fixed," he said, adding that he was told by a guidance counselor that he would never graduate. He now holds bachelor's and master's degrees.
In order to create a more competitive business climate, LePage said the state needs to reduce energy costs by looking to alternative sources.
"We are paying some of the highest power (prices) in the country; we need to find alternatives," he said. "Why is the Hydro-Quebec power at the back burner while we're building 18-cent wind power?"
LePage said he believes wind energy, offshore wind power and tidal power will be affordable sometime in the future – but not now.
"The problem with wind power is that it simply doesn't blow 100 percent of the time," he said. "If it did, it would be viable right today; but it's only 30 percent capacity, so we need to be looking for alternatives."
Besides high energy costs, LePage said high health insurance costs are taking their toll on Maine's business climate.
"No one can afford it," he said. "In 1996, 71 percent of Marden's employees took health insurance. Today, we're down to 29 percent. Why? Because the other 25 percent that the employee is responsible for is unaffordable."
LePage has been general manager at Marden's since 1996.
He said part of the solution is to "bring our mandates to the national average," claiming fewer required benefits would lower the cost of health insurance 35 percent.
Historically, Maine has placed requirements on health insurers – such as making them provide plans to people with pre-existing conditions and not allowing them to base premiums on an individual's health status – that other states have not, making costs higher in Maine. Since the passage of the new federal health care law, all states have to play by those rules.
MaineToday Media State House Reporter Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: email@example.com