Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday vowed to veto any budget that contains additional money for education but does not make administrative reforms to Maine’s public school system.

Speaking during a morning radio program, LePage appeared to squash a Republican proposal from Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, to provide $100 million in additional school funding if Democrats agree to repeal a voter-approved 3 percent tax surcharge on wealthy Mainers.

The proposal has already been dismissed by Democratic leaders in the Legislature and received a chilly reception from House Republican leaders. But on Thursday, LePage said he would veto a budget that simply funnels more money into an education system that he calls “broken.”

“Absolutely. No question about it,” LePage told the hosts of WGAN’s Morning News program. “What it is, is capitulating to the MEA (Maine Education Association) and the administration of the schools without helping our kids.”

LePage repeated his long-standing contention that Maine’s public schools are bloated with too many superintendents and administrators. LePage said Thursday that 148 superintendents in a state with 175,000 school children is too many, and the result is too much money flowing into administration.

“I’m going to tell you right now, Mr. Thibodeau, and I have much respect for Mike’s ability,” LePage said. “But if he thinks you put $100 million into a broken system without fixing it, then it’s just not going to work. The problem is this: It’s not about more money to education. It’s more money to the classroom.”


LePage announced a program earlier this year that offers school districts financial incentives to consolidate services with other districts or pursue more regionalization. His Democratic predecessor, Gov. John Baldacci, used a heavier-handed approach to coerce school districts to consolidate. Those efforts faltered after lawmakers weakened the law in response to constituent complaints about costs and losing local control over schools.

Education funding has emerged as the top obstacle to a budget deal in Augusta. And the clock is ticking, with just one month left for lawmakers to strike a deal before the new fiscal year begins. Without a budget in place, state government could be forced to shut down beginning July 1.

Democrats are staunchly defending the 3 percent tax surcharge on earnings above $200,000 – with revenues flowing toward education – that voters approved last November. Republican lawmakers as well as LePage contend that the 3 percent surcharge is driving wealthier Mainers out of state and prompting businesses to look elsewhere. Republicans are insisting that any budget deal must repeal the 3 percent surcharge.

On Wednesday, Thibodeau said his $100 million proposal – likely an opening salvo in budget negotiations – satisfies the will of voters who wanted more money for education

“We’ve got $100 million of additional resources going to K-12 education,” he said. “We’ve said all along that we think it’s important to honor the spirit of what the voters passed, without doing harm to Maine’s economy that this unnecessary tax would create, so we have offered that.”

But Democrats argued Thibodeau’s proposal is still a $200 million cut to education because Question 2 on last November’s ballot will funnel $300 million into a fund for education.


“I feel very strongly again that the people told us how to fund education and to what extent, and we have said all along that we will talk about alternative ways to do the funding, but we are not moving off from what the amount is,” Senate Minority Leader Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said Wednesday.

LePage, once again, expressed little confidence in a Legislature that he said has “no will . . . to fix it for our kids.”

“It’ll get vetoed and they’ll do what they usually do, which is they all get together and say, ‘Oh, it’s time to go home, so let’s override the veto,’ ” LePage told WGAN hosts Matt Gagnon and Andy Smith.

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