Two Maine companies employing about 400 people may be poised to close their doors because of high energy costs, Maine Gov. Paul LePage said during a radio interview Thursday.

“I’m not going to give you the names because we are just starting the conversation, but yesterday we got two calls,” LePage said. “We are talking roughly 400 people who may lose their jobs because of closures.”

LePage said the companies involved are concerned about a recent voter-approved increase to the minimum wage and high state income taxes, but mostly overwhelming energy costs.

“One company told us their energy bill is going up $125,000 and they simply can’t sustain it,” the Republican governor said in a conversation with WGAN radio talk show hosts Matt Gagnon and Ken Altshuler.

No one responded to a message left Thursday with LePage’s office seeking details on the 400 jobs.

With some exceptions, large employers are required to notify the state 60 days in advance of mass layoffs. The Maine Department of Labor has received no recent notifications of large-scale layoffs.

LePage has previously warned about job losses tied to high energy costs without revealing specifics. In early 2016 he said 900 jobs would be lost in southern Maine because of energy costs, but he never provided specifics and no closures identified as occurring because of energy costs materialized in southern Maine.

ARE ENERGY COSTS THAT BAD?

Some have cast doubt on the governor’s claims that businesses are closing because of rising energy costs. Maine has higher-than-average costs, ranking 19th-highest nationally in 2014 for all sectors, including residential, commercial and industrial, according to federal data. However, industrial users have seen their electricity rates go down in recent years.

Maine’s unemployment rate fell to between 3.6 percent and 4 percent in 2016, down from 8.1 percent in 2010, when LePage was elected. Maine’s jobless rate is consistently below the national rate, but has declined at around the same pace as the national rate since 2010. The number of employed workers in Maine has grown from 640,000 in 2010 to nearly 650,000 in 2016, a 1.6 percent increase in six years.

In his radio interview Thursday, LePage also said he may pursue a ballot question asking voters to eliminate the state’s income tax, saying the state Legislature was “relatively irrelevant.”

“You just go to referendum and they’ll say, ‘Well, the people have spoken,’ ” LePage said. “And that’s how you win the game.”

LePage also hinted that his next and final two-year budget proposal, due to be delivered to the Legislature on Friday, would not increase taxes and is likely to include provisions that will attempt to create a statewide contract for public school teachers. LePage long has said the state has too many school administrators and that not enough money goes into classroom education.

“Education is going to be completely reformed,” LePage said. “We are so out of line with the rest of the nation, it’s not even funny.”

TOWN HALL MEETINGS TO RESUME

LePage said his proposal would have the state cover the costs of teachers’ salaries. He said that would cover between 50 percent and 55 percent of the cost of education.

“Then we will leave it to the communities to decide how many superintendents they want, how many teams they want, how many everything else they want. I’ll take care of the classroom operations,” he said.

The governor also said he would resume a schedule of statewide town hall meetings that he started in 2014 but stopped in August 2016 after he again found himself in the national media spotlight – this time for racially charged statements he made about drug traffickers coming to Maine from out-of-state. That was followed by an obscenity-laced voicemail LePage left for state Rep. Drew Gattine, a Westbrook Democrat, after Gattine criticized the governor for his comments.

LePage also predicted Thursday that the wholesale price of eggs will go from 69 cents to $1.87 a dozen because of a ballot question passed in Massachusetts that bans the sale of eggs from caged hens. He said the ban will prevent Maine producers from selling eggs in Massachusetts.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. Friday to clarify the description of layoffs last year.


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