PORTLAND, Maine — Regardless of what critics might say, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has done much of what he promised he would do, pushing through tax cuts, reducing the state pension fund shortfall, paying back money owed to hospitals, and cutting Medicaid benefits that he said were too generous.
And he is commemorating his accomplishments in the first half of his term with a 20-page book that coincides with his 500th day in office on Saturday.
“With hard work and determination this administration is moving Maine back on a track to financial stability, streamlining government, and providing tax relief for thousands of Mainers,” the governor said in his weekly address. “We are also making Maine more business friendly.”
LePage’s continued success in the remainder of his term will depend in large part on whether Republicans, which have narrow majorities in both legislative chambers, maintain control of the Legislature after the November elections.
The governor’s announcement came Friday amid two conflicting signals.
Maine’s April unemployment dropped 0.5 percent from a year earlier to 7.2 percent, but Moody’s Investors Service warned that Maine’s credit rating could be downgraded in the next 12 to 24 months based on concerns about the state budget, weak reserves and a slow economic recovery.
At times, Maine’s blunt-speaking governor overshadowed his own agenda with rhetoric that drew national media attention, ranging from his “kiss my butt” remark to the Portland NAACP shortly after taking office to his latest comment about the state’s middle managers being “as corrupt as can be.”
“Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the governor’s words from what the Legislature has actually accomplished. There are those who have been critical of the governor’s approach, but the fact is that we have passed a good portion of his policy agenda,” Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said Friday.
In the Legislature, many of the actions were bipartisan, including adoption of five out of six budgets and budget adjustments. The most recent supplemental budget that made dramatic cuts to MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, passed despite opposition from Democrats this week, however.
Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said the deep cuts to MaineCare served to underscore the differences between Republicans and Democrats.
“We just feel strongly that we must invest in people. That’s not always the case in the policies put forth by the Republican Legislature and the governor,” he said.
During his campaign, LePage, who was elected with tea party support, promised to streamline government, remove red tape, reform welfare, lower taxes, improve education system and reduce energy costs.
He can claim success in each of those areas.
Two state agencies were combined, and Department of Environmental Protection reduced its permitting backlog. A $400 million tax cut was touted as the biggest in state history, and income taxes were cut altogether for 70,000 Mainers. He boosted spending on education.
He also notes that energy prices dropped and the state’s private sector grew by 4,100 jobs.
Goodall said LePage shouldn’t be taking credit for lower energy costs, and he said the state’s job creation remains too low. “We’re 45th for job creation on a per-capita basis,” Goodall said. “Forty-fifth is not a place where Maine should be.”