BIDDEFORD, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage upped his estimate of how many jobs will be lost in Maine in the coming months to as many as 1,500.
LePage’s comments, made during a public town hall meeting Tuesday at Biddeford High School, came about two weeks after he generated days of headlines by claiming a southern Maine company was about to shed 900 jobs. LePage later clarified that it would be two companies. He didn’t provide any new details Tuesday other than the higher number.
“This summer, we’re going to lose between 1,200 and 1,500 more jobs,” LePage told a crowd of about 80. “Every single job we’re talking about are jobs that get paid above the per-capita median.”
The comment came as LePage broke from his previous pattern at his town halls and opened Tuesday’s meeting with his assessment of the legislative session that is near its end. Barring a special session, the Legislature will return for one more day on April 29 to vote whether to sustain however many vetoes LePage signs between now and then.
“Now that the Legislature is out of session I can tell you some areas where the Legislature took some action and some areas they did not,” he said.
LePage applauded lawmakers for enacting a welfare reform bill that limits how public cash benefits can be used and for a bill that will help ease student debt, but was highly critical of an overhaul of Maine’s solar energy plan and a bill that would provide raises to workers at Maine’s two state-run mental hospitals.
LePage spent much of the event bemoaning Maine’s energy costs and alleging that the solar bill would increase electricity bills for all Mainers. However, LePage indicated that there may be hope for the bill.
“I’ve invited the Democrats to come in on Friday to see if they can understand where I’m coming from, but the likelihood is it’s going to get vetoed and the veto will be sustained,” said LePage.
As with the rest of his town halls — which LePage said he is doing to circumvent the media and speak directly to the Maine people — the governor ranged between numerous topics in response to questions from the audience. He cited numerous data and statistics, some incorrectly, such as saying twice that Maine’s biennial state budget is $7.4 billion (it’s $6.7 billion) and he appeared to seriously understate the number of millionaires in Maine while trying to make a point that Maine’s tax burden has driven them away.
“Twenty-five years ago, Maine had the same number of millionaires as New Hampshire and about the same population,” he said. “We were both at about 2,500. Now we’re down to 500 and New Hampshire is up over 5,000. They appreciate success. We don’t.”
There are numerous organizations that count millionaires, most of which have much higher number than those cited by LePage. According to the Bangor Daily News archives, there were more than 26,000 millionaire Mainers in 2013. The website NetState.com had a lower number: 22,218 in 2006, which indicates the number of millionaires in the Pine Tree State is growing. The site said New Hampshire had about 26,500 millionaires in 2006.
LePage spent a considerable amount of time on education and his argument that Maine spends too much on public schools for the results, which LePage repeatedly has said are dismal compared with other states. He said Maine teachers need to be paid more and that they need to operate more as “mentors” to students, instead of instructors.
A bill to raise the minimum teacher salary in Maine to $40,000 a year and provide more training and mentorship in the classroom failed earlier this month in the Legislature.
In response to a question about disruptive students, LePage suggested Maine classrooms need more discipline but he didn’t elaborate.
“The state of Maine has decided that we don’t need discipline in our schools,” he said. “That was a big mistake. … There’s a lot that can be done but it has got to start with discipline.”
As with many of LePage’s town halls, there were two hecklers, including one who has attended several and been asked to leave. It caused LePage to compare himself to the rock band the Grateful Dead.
“The Grateful Dead had a lot of people who followed them around called groupies,” said LePage. “I have two groupies here tonight. I might have even more.”
That caused one of the hecklers to storm out of the room.
“The moment you compare yourself to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, I’ve got to get out of here,” he yelled.