BANGOR, Maine — While his main address to the 67th Dirigo Girls State assembly was what one would expect in inspiring girls to get involved in the political process, perhaps Gov. Paul LePage’s frank answers during the question and answer session that followed proved more educational.
The delegates pulled no punches, asking pointed questions about topics ranging from the grading system for Maine schools to the decision to veto the Legislature’s version of the biennial state budget to wind power.
The following are some of the governor’s responses:
— On the statewide grading system for public schools:
“For 19 straight years, the education system in Maine has been flat. In other words, the scores every year only range one or two points either way. Nineteen years ago, Maine was fifth in the nation in education. We have not got any dumber, [but] we have fallen to 36th. States like Florida, Indiana, Rhode Island, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia have all surpassed us.
“When you put the scores in, you put in the grades and the grades create competition and everybody’s going to compete to get better. And if they don’t, your parents will make sure that they do, so that’s why I did that.”
— On another question about the grading system from a Lake Region High School student:
“Let me try to explain to you why you should not be afraid of that grade,” he said.
LePage said that 54 percent of Maine high school graduates who go on to college or community college require remedial classes. While 25 percent who go on to a university need to take nearly a full year of classes before they begin earning college credits, “which means you are paying tuition for something you should already [have] taken and passed.
“That is not your fault. I’m not pointing the finger at the students. I’m pointing the finger at the administration of the school systems of the state of Maine. They’re lagging and they’re happy to be in status quo,” he said. “They’re not interested in taking the best practices of around the world. They’re not interested in competing against South Korea, against Finland, against Hong Kong, against Canada.
“They’re simply happy where they are — and I’m not. I think that you folks, when you attend college, you should start as a freshman, four years later you have your degree, and you shouldn’t have to pay a fortune for it. And I’m sticking to that story.”
— On his decision to wait the full 10 days before vetoing the Legislature’s version of the biennial budget, and if he thinks a state shutdown is the best thing for Maine people:
“We started building the budget in July of last year. We gave it to the Legislature in January of this year. They’ve taken 153 or 154 days to debate it. Then they put it on my desk last Friday and expect me to sign it. Would you do that without looking at it?”
“At least I would read it,” the Standish student said, drawing laughter from the audience of roughly 230 delegates.
“But it’s more than 1,000 pages,” LePage said.
“I’m a fast reader,” the student responded, drawing cheers.
Noting the budget is a complex document, LePage said, “There are consequences to everything thing we do, and so I honestly feel that while I haven’t read the budget, I‘ve heard what’s in it.
“I think a two-week shutdown would be preferable to two years with this budget. I really believe that. I think you’re all going to suffer under this budget.
— On the Affordable Care Act:
“I think everybody should have health care. I think the Affordable Care Act would be an enormous disaster for the state of Maine. I can say that because I’ve seen the [actuarial] tables for the individual markets for the state of Maine starting in January of next year.
“Whatever your parents pay for insurance today, it will double next year. … One size does not fit all and you can’t force someone to be fiscally responsible, you have to teach it.”
— On wind energy:
“It’s a lot of hot air,” LePage quipped. “I don’t have an opinion on wind power itself,” he continued in a more serious vein. “I don’t believe the governor or the Legislature should pick a winner or a loser, but we have in Maine. We in Maine have said that there is no limitation on wind and we can build all the wind towers that we want and this will force people in Maine and will force people in New England to buy our power.
“This is what I object to,” he continued. “In the state of Maine, a family of four with a house of, say, 400 square feet, an average home with two parents and two children, the average electricity bill for the month is $84. If you go to Montreal, which is a major city, the same environment, your electricity will cost you $31. That’s my problem with wind. … It’s nice, it’s renewable, but it’s very, very expensive.”
“My feeling is the state of Maine should have some of the lowest costs for energy because we are not the richest people in the country,” the governor said. “So therefore, we should have comparable energy that they have in Canada, and we could buy it, lower our cost and sell the [higher costing] wind power to the rich people in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C. I really believe that.”