“If you want to negotiate with me, you better be a good negotiator because I’m tough. I want a whole lot for nothing.”

– Gov. Paul LePage

A week after making that comment to The Boston Globe, Gov. LePage let us see what a “whole lot” looks like.

In his budget proposal released last Friday, the governor went far beyond the tax cuts and spending reductions that most people were expecting. Instead, he proposed revolutionary change to a government that usually measures progress in increments.

He tackles tax reform, shifting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax burden from income and inheritance levies to the sales tax, a large part of which is paid by out-of-state visitors. He proposes eliminating aid to cities and towns, forcing them to cut spending or face taxpayer revolt.

The budget is loaded with things that someone will hate, not the least of which is a 30 percent increase in the sales tax at the same time that the tax would be extended to services that have always been exempt, like haircuts, movie tickets and snacks.


It would allow cities and towns to tax hospitals and other nonprofits, which will mobilize some of the state’s biggest employers, uniting them in what should be a powerful coalition.

But wrapped up in this toxic package are also things that would appeal to every end of the political spectrum. There is more money for education, both K-12 and higher ed. There is money to keep nursing homes solvent. There is $46 million to eliminate the waiting lists for residential care for low-income senior citizens and people with developmental disabilities. There’s money to help seniors age in place, and to help families of special-needs children after they finish school.

In exchange for all that, the governor wants a lot, and he doesn’t have much history of compromise.

For Republican lawmakers, the question is an easy one: How many of your words are you willing to eat to support the governor?

Taxes have always been the bedrock issue that unites all Republicans, and that means lowering taxes, not reforming them. Can lawmakers who ran on a promise not to raise taxes vote for blowing the sales tax up to 6.5 percent?

What about Senate President Mike Thibodeau, who came to the Legislature by defeating Democrat John Piotti, author of a tax reform program that’s eerily similar to LePage’s? Will Thibodeau whip his caucus to vote for the same taxes he has built his career on defeating?


For Democrats, the question is more complicated.

The election has put the party in a position where all its power is negative. It’s not like it was two years ago, when Democrats had the votes to pass MaineCare expansion bills for LePage to veto again and again. Democrats can’t initiate anything that doesn’t have broad Republican support now. But in some very important instances, they can say “no.”

Since budgets need two-thirds support, some Democrats would have to agree or the government will shut down. Would the party of government really do that? Before they sit down across the table with the guy who calls himself a tough negotiator, Democrats should know if there is an issue that matters to them as much as Republicans care about taxes.

They can talk about jobs and protecting the middle class, as they did Tuesday in a news conference in Augusta, but everyone says they want more jobs and a stronger middle class.

Is the bedrock issue income inequality? Is it early childhood education? Is the minimum wage, campaign finance reform, college affordability? They may not have to votes to get all that they want, but they do have enough to get some of it – maybe just one thing – if they are willing to be as tough in negotiations as the governor.

Republicans hated it when President Obama told them that elections have consequences, but elections do – and it’s as true in Augusta as it was in Washington.


LePage may not be right on a lot of issues, but winning the way he did gives him some rights.

The next five months or so will show if he has the political skills to shepherd so many big changes through the process, something others have tried and failed.

It will also tell us what the Democratic Party stands for in Maine, and how hard its members are willing to fight for it.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich

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