AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage, who spent more than a decade as a municipal official including eight years as mayor of Waterville, offered a proposal Wednesday that would appear to drastically reduce local control.
In an interview Wednesday with the Bangor Daily News, LePage said he is considering legislation that would choke off state funding to cities and towns that don’t adjust their regulations to match the state’s.
“I’m a big believer in trying to get the state regulations no stricter than federal, and we’re trying to encourage the local communities to work with us to make their rules no stricter [than either],” the governor after hosting the second of his job creation workshops. “If you will not cooperate with the state, [if you are] stricter on regulations, then you lose revenue sharing. Obviously, you don’t need the revenue.”
Geoff Herman with the Maine Municipal Association said his first reaction to the governor’s idea was confusion.
“Generally speaking, municipal rules are enacted not in competition with state rules but in areas where the state does not regulate,” he said. “So, I’m not sure what the governor is talking about.”
John Porter, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, agreed with the governor that inconsistencies across towns is a problem, but he said addressing that concern would not be easy.
“Given our culture of local control, I think that’s a huge challenge,” he said Wednesday.
Recently several cities and towns have pushed back against a statewide law that legalized fireworks by drafting local ordinances that would restrict sale or use of fireworks in those communities.
Democratic leaders quickly and soundly panned LePage’s idea.
“This is a perfect example of the kind of short-sighted, my-way-or-the-highway policy that we have come to expect from Gov. LePage,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said Thursday. “He’s thumbing his nose at the very notion of local control and virtually guaranteeing a massive property tax increase for many communities.”
Rep. Theresa Hayes, D-Buckfield, House assistant minority leader, said, “It is out of line and concerning that the governor would threaten local communities because he doesn’t agree with the way the local people run their towns.
“The people in my town of Buckfield and in communities across the state won’t tolerate those threats. If he has evidence or data that supports his theory that local laws are restricting business development, he should share them in a productive way and stop trying to bully towns.”
Whether or not the governor drafts a bill addressing local control, it’s not clear how much support it would get in the Legislature. Every House and Senate member represents local communities and many of those communities are fiercely protective of their ability to exercise local control.
In an election year, it doesn’t appear likely that the Legislature — even a Republican-controlled Legislature — would go along with anything that weakens local control or prevents cities and towns from receiving state revenue sharing funds.
LePage was in Canada on Thursday and not available for comment.
His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the governor was speaking freely on Wednesday and has not actually begun drafting legislation on what he talked about or about what types of regulations he was referring to. She did say that LD 1, the governor’s regulation reform bill, was just the beginning of his efforts to streamline regulations.
“This is something he’s hearing from businesses about the inconsistencies in regulations across towns,” she said.
Jim Cyr, spokesman for House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said the speaker was curious to hear the governor’s proposal but wanted to see more specifics before commenting further.
Democratic leaders also accused the governor of insulting Maine workers Wednesday by claiming that some are collecting too much unemployment insurance.
“We have got to convince those who can work that we need to get them back to work,” LePage said Wednesday. “Quite frankly, I think that might be a sign that we’re paying them a bit too much when they’re at home not working.”
Sen. John Patrick, D-Oxford, said the governor’s comments suggested he’s “completely out of touch with the realities and struggles of Maine people.”
“What kind of strange world are we living in when we have a governor who blames the unemployed for not working and attacks those who are working?” Patrick said. “In Gov. LePage’s latest tirade, he falsely accuses Maine workers of not wanting to work and getting paid too much to not work. This is not a time to play the blame game. It is not a time to kick people when they’re down.