Gov. Paul LePage called on Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, to resign Tuesday, saying the House chairman of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee is corrupt for taking $9,000 in payments for working on a ballot campaign to add a 3 percent surcharge on the state income tax for individuals earning over $200,000 a year.

Tipping responded with a statement calling the criticism a baseless attack, and saying he had cleared his work on behalf of the ballot campaign with the Maine Ethics Commission.

Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, confirmed that Tipping sought the agency’s advice and was told that he could accept the work without violating conflict-of-interest laws.

LePage’s current two-year budget proposal aims to undo the surcharge, which was approved by voters last November. The measure is meant to increase funding for Maine public schools.

“That’s the kind of corruption I’ve been after for years and years and years,” the Republican governor said. “Some people say it’s not corruption, it’s just business as usual, but I call that the utmost corruption. You are turning your back on the constituents you are supposed to serve.”

LePage, speaking during his weekly appearance on the Bangor-based WVOM George Hale and Ric Tyler talk radio show, was reacting to a news release from the Maine Republican Party that called for Tipping to recuse himself from voting on any legislation that would change the new tax law approved by voters.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission, Tipping was paid by the political action committee Citizens Who Support Maine Schools for campaign consulting and “other professional services.” The PAC was formed to support Ballot Question 2 in 2016, and was largely funded by the Maine Education Association PAC, a political action committee for the statewide teachers union, the Maine Education Association.

Maine Republican Party Chairman Demi Kouzounas asked House Democrats to reassign Tipping to a different committee in a statement issued early Tuesday.

“We request swift action from House Democrats to remedy this situation, and restore confidence in the Taxation Committee as they undertake work that will impact every person in the state of Maine,” Kouzounas said in the statement. “If this slipped unknown under the radar, it is an unfortunate mistake – but if it was known before Rep. Tipping was assigned his committee, I harbor grave concerns about the judgment of Democratic leadership.”

In her release, Kouzounas also pointed out that Tipping accepted the payments from the PAC while he was running as publicly financed candidate for the Maine House under the state’s Clean Elections laws.

Tipping said in his statement that he was employed by the Stand Up for Students Campaign from May to November 2017.

“I took a job fighting for a cause I’ve believed in for a long time, after getting permission from the Maine Ethics Commission,” Tipping said in the written statement. “I’m not going to apologize for that. This is a baseless attack meant to distract from the fact that (Republicans are) desperate to repeal the referendum question that would finally fund our schools at the appropriate level.”

He said as chair of the taxation committee he would work with colleagues from both parties to build a fair tax structure. “That does not include ignoring voters who have twice told us to stop raising property taxes to cover the state’s share of education costs.”

A spokeswoman for Tipping said as an employee of the Stand Up for Students Campaign he worked as an outreach coordinator speaking to school boards, city councils and others about the ballot question.

Wayne, the director of the ethics commission, said the situation was not unheard of for members of the citizen Legislature.

“Legislators have campaign and political skills and are occasionally offered paid employment from political groups, such as party committees or PACs. Both Maine Clean Election Act and traditionally financed candidates may accept these offers of employment,” Wayne said in an email.

“Rep. (Tipping) asked the commission staff for informal advice in May 2016 before beginning the work. We advised that he could accept the employment within the conflict of interest standards in the Legislative Ethics Law … provided that the PAC did not offer the work to him for the purpose of influencing him in the performance of his duties as a Legislator,” Wayne said.

Wayne said the law gives legislators discretion about whether to recuse themselves based on current or past employment. However, he said, “based on the factual information available to me (including the Republican Party’s news release), it seems unlikely that the Representative’s past work for the PAC would require him to recuse himself from legislation relating to taxation or education funding. … The issue of assignment as a committee chair is within the discretion of legislative leadership. The Legislative Ethics Law does not offer any guidance on this question.”

Also during his radio interview Tuesday, LePage again took aim at the Maine Public Utilities Commission and called on all three commissioners to step aside. Though LePage appointed all three, he said he failed by putting the wrong people on the commission and lamented the commission’s recent ruling on solar net metering.

“They have failed their jobs, I have failed by not putting the right people in there,” LePage said. “And yes, I wished they would all resign. They failed, their responsibility was to lower the cost of energy, lower the cost of people’s electricity, but do no harm to the environment. That was a simple little process and they failed.”

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

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