BUCKSPORT, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage again took his message out on the road Tuesday night, presenting his ideas to about 120 people at a town-hall-style meeting at the local middle school.
He made his case for eliminating income taxes, lowering energy costs to improve Maine’s manufacturing sector, reforming welfare so more aid can go to Mainers in need, and reducing student loan debt so that more young people can afford to buy houses and raise families in Maine.
And he took aim at his usual targets that he says are standing in the way of his objectives — newspapers, party leaders, lobbyists and the Legislature.
After noting that Bucksport already has experienced the same pain last year with Verso’s closure of the longtime local paper mill, he said that, contrary to some suggestions, high energy costs did contribute to the financial woes at the Lincoln mill.
“Five years I’ve been talking about this,” LePage said. “[Lincoln mill officials] told me it was [a factor].”
He said he supports developing alternative energy sources in Maine such as wind and solar, but he insisted the state needs a readily available and affordable supply of energy in order to compete economically with other states.
“I’m more of a baseload kind of guy,” he said. “I like to have electricity 24 hours a day.”
LePage took a question from an audience member who asked why he was “encouraging ambitious young people to leave the state?”
When LePage said he didn’t understand the question, the person said he was referring to asylum seekers.
“Because they’re illegal,” LePage said quickly, getting a round of applause.
The governor said he is willing to give aid to people who come to Maine so they can stay here and contribute to society. The problem, he said, is that many immigrants come to Maine from other states to take advantage of Maine’s generous benefits and then leave again to seek taxpayer-funded aid elsewhere.
As for student loans, LePage said he has a proposal he plans to submit after the 2016 state elections. He wants to borrow money and loan it to students interest-free so they can complete college. After they get their degrees and find jobs, their employers would pay off their student debt and enjoy tax benefits as a result.
If voters support his ideas, he said, they need to elect legislators who are more responsive to Maine residents than they are to their own needs or to lobbyists or party leaders.
“I’m not here trying to persuade you to go my way,” LePage said. “I am trying to truly tell you what goes on in Augusta. One hundred and eighty-six legislators don’t get the same scrutiny the governor gets. That is the problem.”