AUGUSTA, Maine — A 46-inch, flat-screen television, purchased by Gov. Paul LePage and the source of a recent controversy at the State House, cost taxpayers $1,483, along with the cart it was meant to sit on, according to a copy of receipts obtained by the Sun Journal.
The governor’s staff bought the Samsung TV from Best Buy in Augusta on May 17 for $899. Also purchased there was a $59 cable for connecting the television to a computer. Because they were purchased by the state, the items were exempt from sales tax.
A television cart was bought on the same date from CDW-G, an Illinois-based technology equipment retailer, for $527, including a $128 shipping charge, the receipts showed.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the cart was not needed after the governor decided to move the television to a transom above a window in his office.
Bennett said the cart would be used by the Maine Department of Transportation, but it was unclear whether the department would reimburse the governor’s office for the expense.
All three items were paid for by the Office of Information Technology and will be billed to the governor’s operational budget, said Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director.
Officials at the state’s Office of Fiscal Program Review confirmed those funds are general fund revenue or taxpayer money.
The Legislature is in the process of crafting a state budget for the next two years. The state faces an estimated $800 million revenue shortfall. Democratic lawmakers and LePage have been in disagreement over how to close that gap.
The television became a source of conflict when it was placed in a reception area outside LePage’s office. The area is in the jurisdiction of the executive director of the Legislative Council, who asked LePage to take down the screen. At one point, in protest, LePage said he was moving the governor’s office from the State House but later said he was moving back.
All displays in the area need prior approval of the council, which LePage didn’t seek. The television was set up to display the number of days since the governor presented his budget proposal and the number of days since he offered a bill to pay off the state’s debt to its hospitals.
The television, now inside the governor’s office with the screen facing out, continues to flash messages, including the governor’s position on not raising taxes.
As of Friday, the purchases had not been logged into LePage’s Open Check Book, a website put in place to increase the transparency of government spending.
“Every Maine citizen has a right to know how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent,” a statement on Maine Open Check Book reads.
In a message to the Sun Journal, Steele noted the governor’s office decided to purchase and install the television independently after a quote from the company often used by the Legislature for installing displays exceeded $3,400.
“We decided to go the most economical route by getting the TV at Best Buy and ordering the rolling cart, which was not available locally,” Steele wrote in an email. “Our setup cost about $2,000 less than that quote. Here in the Governor’s Office, we always seek the lowest-cost, most-effective solution we can find.”
An online search Friday for 46-inch, Samsung flat-screen televisions yielded several options for less than $600 in Maine.