LePage during his inauguration speech held Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center.

Gov. Paul LePage hit a number of policy areas during his 40-minute speech at the Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday, including additional signals that he wants changes in local government and how it delivers services. However, before we get to speculating what he might have meant by his remarks, a check on a particular claim he made that doesn’t appear to be accurate.

Here’s what he said via tweet:

This claim caught the attention of the Maine Municipal Association, which has data that refutes the governor’s assertion. Below is a chart of “local spending” obtained through the MMA’s annual survey of municipalities. It tracks total municipal expenditures. A quick look at the chart shows that local government spending is either flat or falling in a number of categories.  The exceptions are in local education funding, which has increased 19 percent between fiscal year 2008 and 2012, and county government, which has increased by 17 percent. It’s worth noting that local education spending has increased as state government has failed to fund 55 percent of local education costs, as mandated in the 2004 referendum.

It’s unclear what the governor was using for a data source, but it contradicts these numbers (there’s no data for fiscal year 2013 yet, according to the MMA):

Local Government Spending        
2008 2012 $ Change % Change
General Administration      377,855,068        339,427,873        (38,427,195) -10%
Public Safety      272,036,157        273,731,142           1,694,985 1%
Public Works      377,191,564        393,906,508         16,714,944 4%
Code/Human Services        25,006,301          23,107,612          (1,898,689) -8%
Parks/Library        70,192,975          65,321,073          (4,871,902) -7%
K-12 Education (Local Only)   1,060,307,905     1,259,327,585       199,019,680 19%
County      111,457,117        129,882,292         18,425,175 17%
Debt Service      122,242,238        171,817,509         49,575,271 41%
Total   2,416,289,325     2,656,521,595       240,232,270 10%
Source:  2008 & 2012 Municipal Fiscal Survey, Maine Municipal Association

The context for all this, of course, is that LePage and the association — and Democrats — are going to have a battle over municipal revenue sharing. The governor has tried to eliminate state aid to municipalities before, calling it “welfare” for cities and towns. It’s pretty clear that he’s going to try again.

* Interestingly, LePage touted stronger county government during his speech, saying that the state has too many local governments, leading to the duplication of services and inefficient use of tax dollars.

“There’s a simple way to fix this. We look at other states and how they do it. We look at the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and we see that counties do a lot of the services that we are doing at the local level. Towns, cities and the counties have to work together to deliver services at a more affordable and effective cost structure.”

It wasn’t the first time that LePage has talked about county government playing a more prominent role in delivering services (and taxing for them). However, it’s notable that he used the inauguration speech to talk about it. Doing so on that stage leaves the impression that he has a proposal to execute this vision or at least begin working toward it.

* Another hint: The governor talked a lot about consolidation, specifically school district consolidation and the state’s high number of school administrators per capita:

LePage claimed Maine has “twice the number of administrators per capita than any other state in the country.”

“School administrators in the state of Maine take home six-digit salaries while teachers have to dig in their pockets to buy school supplies. That’s inappropriate. That is not only inappropriate, it is morally wrong. I have been saying this for four years and I will continue to say it: We have an education system that is upside down. We have winners and it has losers. We have two winners and two losers. The winners are the administrators getting more money every year and the union bosses who come in from Washington and tell us how to teach our children. The two biggest losers are our teachers and our students.”

Let’s set aside LePage’s claim about union bosses from D.C. dictating education strategies and look at a possible solutions to Maine’s high number of school superintendents. We don’t have to look far.

In 2007, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci pushed an initiative that was designed to reduce administration costs. The results have been mixed. If you want to know some of the reasons why, read this excellent piece by colleague Gillian Graham about how the law had generated savings in school administration in the districts that consolidated, but the savings were rarely passed on to taxpayers and that some consolidated districts are now attempting to break apart.

And why are those districts resisting or repealing consolidation? Local control. If LePage wants to reform local government, he’s going to have to change Mainers’ reverence for local control. That’s no small task.

LePage knows it.

“Municipalities constantly blame state government. And I will tell you, I will be the first one to admit it, that when I was the mayor of Waterville, local control was important to me. And I wanted the state to pay for it, just like every other elected official in the state of Maine. Now I’m governor. It’s expensive. It’s real expensive.” 

* The Legislature will be in session Thursday. Both chambers will begin referencing bills to committee, the first step in vetting the proposals. LePage will also swear in the three constitutional officers, Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and Treasurer Terry Hayes.

Interestingly, LePage is expected to have a private swearing in ceremony for Mills and Dunlap, the two Democrats (Mills and LePage have been at loggerheads for the past two years). The governor is expected to have a public ceremony for Hayes in the Hall of Flags. Hayes, a former Democrat turned independent, was nominated by Republicans and ousted former Democratic state Treasurer Neria Douglass. She posted the Hall of Flags ceremony on her Facebook page.

* Finally, some news from the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, the group working to limit the influence of money in politics: They have gathered approximately 80,000 signatures to advance a ballot measure designed to provide more money to publicly financed candidates, requiring interest groups to disclose sources of funding on campaign ads and increasing penalties for election law violations.

The citizen initiative follows a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and state actions that have weakened and reduced candidate participation in the 14-year-old state program that was initially ratified by voters in 1996. The court actions, plus an ongoing push by national interests to make the legal argument that campaign spending is constitutionally protected, have threatened the viability of the pioneering Maine program modeled by other states.

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