PORTLAND, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage came out against the “Gang of 11’s” recent tax reform package, calling it a “bad deal,” at a Wednesday morning Chamber of Commerce event in Portland.
A bipartisan group of 11 legislators last Wednesday introduced a tax reform package that proposes to overhaul Maine’s tax code by lowering individual and corporate income taxes and eliminating the estate tax. The package makes up for much of the lost revenue by extending the sales tax to nearly all products and services and eliminating nearly all exemptions.
“It could have been a good deal. They just went too far,” LePage said. “I think when you have per capita income of $38,000, you cannot go out there and put a sales tax on everybody’s food.”
Chris Hall, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber, asked LePage about it at the Chamber’s monthly Eggs & Issues breakfast event.
LePage said, however, that he believes “conceptually” in where the legislators are going.
“I think the income tax is a very regressive tax that needs to be eliminated, but before you go and put a sales tax on everything you ought to concentrate on improving your economy,” he said.
LePage said the tax reform package should have addressed commerce.
“I told them right on when I met with them: ‘You have got to make sure whatever you do is an incentive to attract investment. If you don’t have an incentive you’re going nowhere,’” he said.
On the budget
LePage in January introduced a proposal for a two-year budget that would begin in July.
“Do people like it? No. Do I like it? Not especially, because there’s no surpluses and so I can’t spend the way I’d like to spend, but it’s balanced,” LePage said.
Asked about the potential that a stalemate over a budget will lead to a government shutdown, LePage said the ball is in legislative leadership’s court.
“I don’t have anything to say about the shutdown. It’s their call. It’s in their hands. … I put a budget up there, it’s balanced. All they have to do is give me a balanced budget and don’t raise taxes and we’re all set,” he said in comments after the event.
LePage described his relationship with Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, as “nonexistent,” but said he’s open to talking with House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, though “there hasn’t been an occasion that we can agree on anything.”
Given those relationships, Hall said the prospects for a budget deal seem dim. LePage didn’t reassure him.
“As we sit right now, there is no budget, there’s an $850 million hole and I don’t know where they’re going,” LePage said. “They haven’t spoken to me about the budget, they’ve never entertained coming to my office about a budget.”
The latter claim is “blatantly not true,” according to Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for the speaker of the house’s office.
Eves has requested “nearly a dozen meetings” with the governor to discuss a number of issues, including the budget, Quintero said.
“And the governor stonewalled us for silly political reasons,” she said. “Speaker Eves and President Alfond would be happy to meet with the governor at any time to discuss the budget or any issue.”
LePage expresses doubt he’ll succeed at paying back hospitals
At one point, Hall prefaced a question with the assumption that LePage will succeed in getting a deal to pay back the hospitals, to which LePage quickly said, “I don’t think so.”
A roadblock to paying the hospitals back is the counterproposal by Democratic leadership that they will agree to pay 39 Maine hospitals the $484 million the state and federal government owe them if LePage agrees to expand Medicaid.
To reiterate his firm stance against Medicaid expansion, LePage cited Calvin Coolidge, the country’s 30th president.
“Calvin Coolidge said one thing that stuck with me: ‘It’s always more important to beat bad public policy than it is to pass good public policy,’” he said.
“Expanding Medicaid today is bad public policy,” LePage said. “It’s bad public policy on a number of venues, but most importantly, expanding Medicaid right now is only a three-year fix. That means my kids and grandkids that are not born yet are going to be saddled with a major problem and I can’t let that happen.”
LePage reveals three major goals
Hall also asked LePage what “major accomplishments” he’d like to leave behind after he completes his time in the Blaine House.
LePage said he wants an M.D. medical school in Maine, an east-west highway, and the busiest ports in the eastern United States.
“We have the deepest water,” LePage said, referring to Eastport’s port. “All we have to do is look ahead and make it happen.”
He implied, however, that the Legislature is not focusing on the important issues, noting that yesterday he received a bill that would hold $300 back for the Franco-American Heritage fund.
LePage was referring to LD 821, a piece of emergency legislation that allows the legislative council “to retain $300 in the Task Force on Franco-Americans funding account and expend those funds to offset the costs associated with the Legislature’s Franco-American Day,” according to the bill.
“I mean, come on. That’s what we deal with,” he said. “I’d say about 200 bills have come across my desk [since the legislative session began in January] and I will tell you this, the most important bill I’ve signed this year — and the reason I signed it is it got me three Democrats to vote to pay the hospitals — was St. Paddy’s Day when I opened the bars three hours earlier.”
His thoughts on a second term
When asked if he plans to run for governor again, LePage said “the likelihood is yes,” though he said later his comments are not an official declaration.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that LePage was referring to Portland when discussing the port with “the deepest water.” He was referring to Eastport. We regret the error.