BANGOR, Maine — As quality of life for China’s middle class improves, more business and trade opportunities with the U.S. will emerge and Maine should strive to be involved, Gov. Paul LePage told a group of Bangor-area business and commerce officials during an event at Husson University Wednesday morning.
“They really like to sell us stuff, but they don’t like to buy our stuff,” LePage said during an event presented by the Action Committee of 50, a group that aims to leverage transportation and other logistical assets in the region to improve Maine’s economy and business climate.
Efforts to bring more Chinese students into Maine high schools and colleges are one step toward making that happen. Those same students could return to China with Maine in mind or start businesses in Maine and look to their home country for commerce opportunities, LePage said.
LePage also said he was in talks with at least one Chinese company that was looking to expand into Maine rather than Massachusetts, but he said he was “not at liberty” to discuss what company.
Maine, with the 12th highest energy costs in the nation, also needs to bring that down in order to attract business, LePage said. With natural gas still in its infancy in the state, Maine has a capacity issue and needs to continue work with states like Massachusetts and Connecticut to get a pipeline to Maine that will provide a more dependable supply of shale gas to the state.
Aside from the brief remarks on China and energy, LePage largely stayed away from talk about trade, commerce and infrastructure, focusing mostly on the accomplishments of his administration and decried political wrangling that delayed those efforts. He touched on welfare and tax reform, fiscal responsibility and job creation.
LePage also said that rather than helping along policies and reforms, oversight committees in Augusta are “trying to tell us what to do” and holding the state back.
He credited his effort to pay off Maine’s debts to its hospitals with decreasing taxes and a reduced unemployment level in the state.
The governor stressed the importance of welfare reform, applauding the 5-year limit on benefits and a 41 percent reduction in the number of TANF cases.
“We need to provide a safety net for Maine’s truly needy,” LePage said. “All the able-bodied people, we’re asking them to look for work, that’s all.”
LePage also dedicated part of his remarks to criticizing the Bangor Daily News. He said the paper lived in a “fairytale land” where everyone could be on welfare and accused it of dishonesty and not caring about the middle class.
“You don’t fight poverty by giving a person a check every month, you fight it by giving them an education,” LePage said.
The governor also talked about his re-election campaign, saying one of his opponents was “cozy with the unions” and the other was “cozy with regulators.” LePage described himself as “the one who’s like a bull in the china closet.”
LePage, a Republican, is running for governor against Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.