AUGUSTA – Mayors of some of Maine’s largest cities criticized the LePage administration Tuesday for its harsh relationship with municipalities and urged lawmakers to pass a budget that broadens the sales tax but protects revenue sharing.

Members of the Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development made their comments as the Legislature’s budget-writing committee dives deeper into a two-year budget widely expected to include income tax cuts. The question is where Republicans and Democrats will land on the tax question, and whether the bipartisan compromise will satisfy Republican Gov. Paul LePage as he continues to push his long-term vision of eliminating the income tax in Maine.

The mayors – David Rollins of Augusta, Michael Brennan of Portland, Colleen Hilton of Westbrook and Donald Pilon of Saco – said their coalition supports applying the sales taxes to more good and services, as both LePage and Democratic leaders have proposed. And they signaled potential support for income tax cuts, but only if the losses are offset by the additional sales taxes, or revenues continue to flow to towns.

“If more state revenue is kept in Augusta and less goes to local municipalities, we have no choice but to look at the property tax,” Brennan said. “We’d be more than happy, and I’d be more than happy, to reduce taxes, but my contention would be is we need to focus on the property tax because that is the biggest and most regressive tax and the biggest burden on citizens in the state of Maine.”

The mayors also accused LePage – himself a former Waterville mayor – of taking a harsh tone toward municipalities as he pushes for more regionalization and cooperation between towns.

Rollins said the LePage administration “tends to be more confrontational,” whether it is with municipal leaders or members of his own party who have yet to endorse his sweeping tax overhaul plan.

“I just think it’s a management style and maybe not a leadership style,” Rollins said. “If you want to, for instance, have a consolidated economy where regions of the state come together, then offer the leadership and come forward with the municipalities as part of a partnership.”

LePage has repeatedly accused local leaders and the Maine Municipal Association of putting municipal government above the interests of taxpayers and of resisting calls for more collaboration between towns. The governor’s proposal to eliminate revenue sharing – the program that sends money back to municipalities to reduce the reliance on property taxes – appears unlikely to pass the Legislature.

The four mayors each gave examples of how they are working with neighboring communities in areas such as fire protection, facilities management and public transportation.

“We are always looking at ways that we can consolidate, ways that we can be more effective and ways that we can be more efficient,” said Brennan. “But critical to all of that is having a strong partnership in Augusta, and one of the things that we have seen over the last several years is that the partnership has continued to erode.”

Local control has once again emerged as a hot issue at the State House this year.

Later Tuesday, the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill supported by the LePage administration that would prohibit municipalities from setting a local minimum wage higher than the state minimum.

The Portland City Council is currently considering a proposal that would increase the city’s minimum wage to $8.75 an hour starting next January followed by 50-cent increases in 2019 and 2020. Brennan, who proposed a higher local wage to the City Council, said he plans to testify against the bill, L.D. 1361.

The mayors also opposed LePage’s plans to change the state’s reimbursement formula for General Assistance and called on lawmakers to correct a clerical error that could result in Efficiency Maine receiving $38 million less for home and business electricity efficiency programs.

Kevin Miller can be reached at 791-6312 or at:

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