AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is hitting the road to pitch his two-year budget — and the monumental tax reform policy it contains — directly to Maine people.
During a Waterville Rotary Club meeting Monday, LePage said he would be discussing his budget plan with people throughout Maine at two or three meetings per week. His communications office has not publicized those events, but a spokeswoman said the meetings mostly are those of private organizations that have invited the governor to speak.
However, the public has been invited to attend a town hall-style meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Westbrook’s Performing Arts Center, where LePage and Jonathan LaBonte, the governor’s director of policy and management, will answer their questions about the $6.57 billion two-year spending plan.
Another such event is in the works for the Bangor area, LePage’s communications director, Peter Steele, said Tuesday.
The idea is to “answer questions and educate the public about what we’re trying to accomplish,” LePage told reporters Tuesday. “I think there’s a lot of misinformation. Everybody has their own little twist, and I just really want to tell people what we’re trying to do.”
LePage’s budget contains a tax reform plan that would eliminate the estate tax and cut the state’s income tax in a step toward eliminating it entirely. It also eliminates the tax on military retirement income and decreases the tax on all other pensions.
On the flip side of the ledger, the plan broadens and increases the sales tax, eliminates state aid to municipalities and scraps the property tax exemption for nonprofits.
The plan is bold and has not drawn many direct broadsides from Democrats, but it has its detractors.
Nonprofits — including hospitals, private colleges and summer camps — have railed against the idea they should pay property taxes. Industries and service providers that have been exempt from sales tax for decades are bristling that they may lose that exemption. And as they did in the last budget cycle, town and city officials say they’ll be forced to cut needed services or increase already steep property tax rates if they lose state funding.
The totality of the plan has left lawmakers with a lot to chew on. LePage has attended several GOP caucus meetings to talk about the plan but said Tuesday that legislators have more questions than opinions.
“They don’t understand it yet,” he said. “That’s why I’m going around talking to people. It’s complex and comprehensive. It’s over a thousand pages.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.