ELLSWORTH, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage brought his budget plan roadshow to the local high school Thursday evening and was met by a mostly cordial crowd as he laid out his vision for the state’s economic future.
Among the top ideas he promoted at the forum — similar to other forums he has held recently in other towns and cities — were eliminating state income taxes and sharing of state revenue with municipalities, reducing energy costs and requiring nonprofits to pay taxes.
LePage said that even with the elimination of income taxes, he still will offer assistance to those who need it, though he favors tightening welfare rules. He said eliminating income taxes will help improve the state’s economy by attracting investment.
As for eliminating revenue sharing, LePage said it would mean a $62.5 million reduction in state spending — but still have less than a 1 percent impact on the proposed $6.57 billion state budget.
The effect on municipalities also would be relatively minor, he said. Ellsworth, for example, would lose about $364,000 in shared revenue from the state. But if the income tax were eliminated, LePage said, Ellsworth residents would save an estimated $7.4 million based on what they currently pay.
LePage added that there is a misconception about his proposed budget when it comes to the revenue sharing funds. He had not eliminated them from the budget, he insisted. He has proposed to put them in a “property fairness” tax credit program, in which taxpayers would get the credit directly to help reduce their property tax bill rather than have the money go to municipal governments.
LePage said nonprofits should have to pay at least some taxes because he thinks “they should contribute to society.” He said colleges should pay taxes to municipalities where they are located, because their students often generate police complaints on weekends.
If nonprofits have the support of the communities where they are located, then it should be “very easy for them to go out and ask for contributions,” he said.
Not everyone welcomed the governor’s remarks, though the majority of the 180 or so people at the event were polite and some offered light applause for LePage’s comments.
When asked a question about the fairness of “trickle down” economics, LePage took a shot at the Democratic speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.
“Sounds like you’ve been listening to Speaker [Mark] Eves,” the governor said. “Speaker Eves might be a good marriage counselor, but he doesn’t know a damn thing about economics.”
There was some applause for the remark, but David Blethen of Bangor shouted back, “Neither do you!”
Blethen then hollered that he had a degree in economics and challenged the governor to a debate.
“You got it,” LePage replied. “You set the time, and I’ll be there.”
Blethen’s outburst was short lived. Unlike a former state legislator who tossed a jar of Vaseline toward LePage at a similar event in Saco, Blethen was not escorted out or even approached by LePage’s security detail.