AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage repeatedly hammered “socialist” Maine lawmakers in this year’s written State of the State address, which was delivered to the Legislature on Monday.
The Republican governor used the address to drive home the same talking points he has stuck to for the past year. He called for welfare reform, lower income taxes, more drug agents and higher pay for state police to fight Maine’s drug crisis.
But it was less about Maine’s state than a political broadside against his perceived opponents: “Socialists, career politicians and their allies in media,” reflecting his poor relationship with the Legislature.
The address makes 12 references to “socialism,” a word he has taken to using to describe liberal lawmakers since some launched an unsuccessful bid to impeach him in January, after which he chose to deliver his sixth address by letter instead of a customary speech.
There were new policy points: LePage gave details on his plan to fight student debt — which he has teased at recent town hall meetings. He called for a $10 million state bond for interest-free student loans and said employers who pay off student loans should receive equivalent tax credits.
“If you want lower taxes, more welfare reform, reduced energy costs, affordable student debt and a get-tough approach to the drug crisis, Mainers must contact their elected officials and hold them accountable,” he said.
LePage’s points on welfare and taxes didn’t much deviate from a proposed referendum that the Maine Republican Party is trying to get on the statewide ballot in 2017. It would try to eliminate income taxes by bringing rates down between 2018 and 2021 and place new restrictions on cash assistance, food stamps and other benefits.
The vote — if it happens — is setting up to be the pivotal moment of LePage’s second term, taking key pieces of his agenda to voters and around the Legislature with which he has feuded.
His biggest gulf has been with Democrats.
In a Monday statement, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said LePage’s address “ignores what Mainers really care about” and the governor used it “to rail against bipartisan lawmakers who disagree with him.”
Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, expressed disappointment with LePage’s focus on political conflict.
“He could have shared a blueprint for our economy, but instead he gave us an unproductive rant about socialism as if we never won the Cold War,” Alfond said. “There’s little that’s new, and no real path forward.”
But members of LePage’s party haven’t been spared. In June 2015, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, was targeted with robocalls from a conservative group run by LePage’s daughter criticizing him for working with “liberal Democrats” to craft a budget compromise.
Thibodeau said in a statement that it’s “clear” that LePage “shares most of the same priorities” that Republicans in the Legislature have.
“I look forward to learning more details about the vision he is attempting to share,” he said.