July 22, 2011

Capitol for a Day: LePage pans North Woods park

The governor also tells the town hall audience that he wants to eliminate the income tax on pensions.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

DOVER-FOXCROFT - Gov. Paul LePage told residents of Piscataquis County on Thursday that he doesn't support a national park in Maine's North Woods and that he wants to eliminate the income tax on pensions.

When asked by an audience member about a proposal by philanthropist Roxanne Quimby to create a federal park, LePage said Maine can't afford to preserve land permanently.

"Our forest needs to be a working forest," he said. "I'm all for conservation. I'm against preservation."

The town hall meeting, which drew about 200 people to the Center Theatre in downtown Dover-Foxcroft, was part of the sixth Capitol for a Day tour for LePage, who started in southern Maine in February and has worked his way north.

LePage, six of his Cabinet members and state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin spent 90 minutes taking questions from the audience.

For LePage, Piscataquis County, home of the Red County Caucus, delivered a much friendlier crowd to the town hall event than last month's gathering in Rockport. In 2008, Piscataquis was the only one of 66 counties in New England that supported John McCain for president.

"We love you, governor!" a man yelled from the back of the room as the forum was about to begin. "You're doing a great job."

On the other end of the political spectrum, members of Maine's 61 percent group -- a reference to the percentage of voters who did not support LePage in November's election -- attended the forum. No one asked LePage about the resignation of his marine resources commissioner, Norman Olsen, on Wednesday.

Instead, the crowd wanted to know about jobs and taxes, education and roads. LePage urged the crowd to call local legislators to encourage them to support eliminating the income tax on pensions, which he said would ease the burden on retired state workers who are facing freezes in their cost-of-living increases.

Also, he wants to encourage more retirees to stay in Maine, rather than become residents of Florida or New Hampshire for just over half the year to avoid taxes.

"Having people with more affluence is a good thing," he said.

After the meeting, John McGough, LePage's chief of staff, said the administration is working with Maine Revenue Services to find out the costs involved with eliminating the tax on pensions.

He said that continuing to reduce taxes remains high on the governor's to-do list.

LePage and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said they will continue to crack down on welfare fraud and the administration is committed to supporting welfare programs for needy Mainers.

LePage said recently that he wants the Legislature to reconsider changing eligibility requirements for Medicaid to reduce the number of Mainers in the health insurance program.

He also urged the public to call the DHHS with tips about people who are cheating the system.

"When somebody takes their (welfare benefits) card and buys $159 worth of live lobsters and sells it for $75 so they can go buy drugs, it's a problem," he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com

 

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