Gov. Paul LePage struck a productive and good-natured tone Wednesday in kicking off his second term as governor. After a hard-fought campaign for re-election, he sent the welcome message that he’s ready to work with all members of the Maine Legislature.
He reiterated heartfelt messages that he has no tolerance for more deaths from domestic violence and no tolerance for more babies born addicted to drugs. And he touched on familiar policy themes in his address, from cutting taxes to eliminating unnecessary regulations to shrinking the size of state and local governments.
Now, it’s up to LePage to translate those words into concrete policy proposals — something the governor didn’t always do in his first term nor during a re-election campaign, in which he was notably short on policy specifics. In addition, it’s up to Democrats in the Legislature to contribute to the development of worthwhile policy ideas. And it’s up to legislative Republicans not simply to serve as rubber stamps for LePage’s proposals when they’re not right for Maine.
LePage made welfare reform a cornerstone of his re-election campaign last year, but he never laid out ideas for substantive changes to the state’s public assistance programs beyond the punitive agenda he already has pursued: photo IDs on EBT cards, drug tests for some public assistance applicants, bans on certain EBT card purchases.
On Wednesday, LePage spoke of plans for a “tiered welfare system” that would ease welfare recipients’ transition off public assistance by ensuring aid doesn’t abruptly end once a recipient reaches a particular income threshold. That’s a sensible idea LePage also spoke about during his 2010 campaign for governor and during his first inaugural address. But he never came forward with a specific proposal for the Legislature to debate and for the Department of Health and Human Services to enact.
If LePage comes forward with a proposal this time, it’s a concept ripe for bipartisan collaboration.
LePage also spoke repeatedly during his first term about what he saw as the excesses of local government and the need to deliver local services more efficiently, which is overdue. He’s said time and again he’s a fan of strong county governments rather than Maine’s network of more than 400 separate municipal governments. LePage’s preference for strong county government evolved in 2013 as he defended a proposal in his second biennial budget package to eliminate revenue sharing with towns and cities.
This is another area to which LePage has devoted substantially more rhetoric than action.
LePage has the chance to change that. In his inaugural address, the governor called out municipalities for duplicating services. “This has to stop,” he said. He’s right. And he said state government has a role in helping towns and cities cut costs through collaboration. He said he was open to ideas from local government officials on cutting the cost of local government. This is better than simply taking money away through revenue sharing cuts.
It wasn’t clear from LePage’s address what proposals he might have in mind. But if the governor does come forward with a plan to restructure the delivery of local services, it’s another area that’s ripe for bipartisan collaboration.
LePage started his second term off on the right foot, and we would welcome a continuation of the LePage who delivered Wednesday’s inaugural address — a governor who is committed to his agenda and committed to action but also committed to working with anyone to achieve commonly held objectives.