Color Portland Mayor Michael Brennan befuddled.

“I’ve never really seen a situation like this politically before,” Brennan said Thursday before heading into a meeting at the Maine Municipal Association to discuss the upcoming legislative session in Augusta.

Do go on, Your Honor.

“I have never seen this type of attack on local government that we’ve seen in the last four years,” Brennan continued. “And yet we have a governor who ends up winning (re-election) by a substantial margin.”

So much for keeping his head down during this post-election celebration of all things Gov. Paul LePage. Still, the mayor of Maine’s largest community has a point.

Wednesday’s announcement out of Portland City Hall of a hiring freeze and other austerity measures – all prompted by the ongoing spat between the city and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services over General-Assistance aid to undocumented immigrants – is but one of the headaches plaguing Brennan in the wake of LePage’s stunning 48-percent victory at the polls on Nov. 4.

To be sure, the looming court fight between the city and DHHS is serious business:

The state is apparently withholding all of Portland’s General-Assistance reimbursement – it normally reimburses Portland about $9 million annually – until the city stops granting rent, food and other benefits to asylum seekers and others who lack the documentation required as of June by DHHS.

The city counters that state law and the Maine Constitution trump the department’s directive and that putting some 735 undocumented immigrants out onto the streets of Portland would be as illegal as it is immoral.

Time will tell how that one turns out – although it’s worth noting that Team LePage scores political points with their largely rural base every time they refer to these folks, the vast majority of whom have broken no laws, as “illegals.”

Meanwhile, as the election dust settles, something bigger than LePage’s anti-immigrant crusade is coming into focus. It’s a new definition of what we’ve long called the “two Maines.”

It’s no longer north versus south.

Nor, for that matter, can it be reduced to rich versus poor.

It’s now officially urban versus rural.

Look at the Press Herald’s map of how Maine municipalities voted and you’ll see clusters of blue around places such as Portland, Biddeford, Bangor and Augusta – offset by seas of red in the less populated parts of the state.

Rural, conservative Maine has spoken. Loudly. Thus, for the next four years, it will go something like this:

Buoyed by the largest vote total in Maine gubernatorial history, LePage will pick up where he left off in shrinking both the size and scope of state government. The voting machines had barely been unplugged last week when the governor told several media outlets that he wants to repeal the state income tax by way of an expanded sales tax and more cuts in an already-lean state budget.

Enter Brennan and 11 other municipal leaders who comprise the three-year-old Maine Mayors Coalition, representing some 300,000 Mainers living in the state’s most populous communities. The mayors understand better than most a simple law of political gravity: Cuts at the state level, sooner or later, bleed their way down to the local level. And the larger the municipality, the greater the pain.

Want to slash municipal revenue sharing beyond the $75 million already trimmed from the state’s current biennial budget? Up go local property taxes.

Looking to reduce the state’s teacher-retirement obligation by passing some of it onto the local school districts? Up go local property taxes.

Itching to pull the plug on the state’s circuit-breaker program, designed to keep people from being taxed out of their homes? Up go local property taxes.

And now, repeal the state income tax? Well, you get the idea.

“That’s the part I don’t understand right now,” Brennan said. “I mean, were people in this state saying go ahead and take away revenue sharing? Go ahead and increase local property taxes? Go ahead and let’s not fund the state university system? Let’s not fund local schools?”

And what if they were saying that?

“That would be very disheartening,” Brennan replied.

Here’s a more likely explanation: Elected leaders in Augusta push through cuts in state spending, much to the delight of voters who sent them there to do just that.

The problem is, those same voters then head down to their local municipal budget hearing, only to be told that reductions in state funding have forced an increase in the local property-tax rate. To which said voters respond, “They tightened their belts up in Augusta! Why can’t you do the same?”

That leaves local officials with two choices:

Increase the property tax and risk getting thrown out in the next election.

Or follow Augusta’s lead and take their own scalpels to “the way life should be” – and should they go that way, brace themselves for that late-night phone call from an irate constituent who just blew out his suspension on Main Street’s biggest pothole

“We had three (city) council district meetings last week and we have one tonight and another next week,” Brennan said. “And people are still asking for their streets to be paved, their trash to be picked up and for fire and police protection.”

Little wonder that Portland’s mayor dreaded getting out of bed on Nov. 5. Had the election turned out differently, he mused, “a lot of these issues would have taken on a very different meaning.”

Meaning they’d have simply gone away?

“Exactly,” Brennan said.

Instead, the debate between the “two Maines” rages on – from how Maine treats its immigrant population, to when it fixes its potholes.

The first will test our compassion. The second, our intelligence.

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