2016-08-18 / Front Page

LePage: All 5 citizens’ referendums are bad for Maine

Governor addresses key issues at Sanford town hall meeting
Staff Writer

Members of the public listen to Gov. Paul LePage speak at Sanford High School Wednesday night. 
LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune Members of the public listen to Gov. Paul LePage speak at Sanford High School Wednesday night. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune SANFORD — Gov. Paul LePage told the audience at a town hall meeting Wednesday night just what he thought of five citizens’ choice referendum questions that will be on the November ballot.

“I’ll make it very, very simple, and save you a lot of time,” he said. “No, no, no, no and no.”

During the meeting at Sanford High School, LePage reiterated his position on issues such as taxes, gun control, education and minimum wage, often making comparisons to Maine’s only bordering state, New Hampshire.

High income taxes and energy costs are holding the state back, he said. LePage said he studied the 10 most prosperous states and the 10 least prosperous states.

The states which were the most prosperous – including New Hampshire, which rated seventh – had competitive energy rates and little or no income taxes, and did not over-regulate businesses, he said. Maine ranked near the bottom, he said, at 47.

Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a town hall forum at Sanford High School Wednesday night. 
LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a town hall forum at Sanford High School Wednesday night. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune There are a few laws in Maine that are “insane,” and regulations “scare away” businesses from Maine, he said. For example, he said, grandparents providing daycare to their grandchildren have to get fingerprinted.

“They do that in Marxist countries, but we do that here in Maine,” said LePage.

There needs to be lower electricity rates and more access to natural gas in the state, the governor said.

The average state income tax in the United States is 5.5 percent, and Maine’s income tax is 7.15 percent. LePage said New Hampshire, which has no income tax or sales tax, had a 20 percent higher per capita income than Maine.

Even though Maine collected “a billion dollars in income tax” and another “several hundred million dollars” in sales tax, it was the ninth-highest state in property taxes in the U.S., he said. In comparison, New Hampshire, which is only 2 percentage points higher in property taxes, was the seventh highest in the U.S., he said, which was “unbelievable.”

“So the issue is this, do we have a tax problem? Yes? Does it revert back to a spending problem? Big time,” said LePage.

LePage said he opposes the minimum wage referendum that’s on the November ballot because it eliminates the tip credit, which allows restaurants to pay wait staff less than minimum wage if they earn tips. He said wait staff, including his wife, earn considerably more in tips than what they get from minimum wage.

Many minimum-wage earners are disabled and are on Social Security or some other federal program that limits what they could earn, LePage said. He commended people with disabilities who work, and the employers who hire them.

LePage said the “big problem” with the proposed law is that the 325,000 people in the state of Maine who were on Social Security would not get an increase in benefits, but would have to pay more for groceries and other items if prices increased.

The proposed minimum wage law would index minimum wage, which would mean it would increase every year, even if the economy took another downturn and employers couldn’t afford the increase, he said.

“If you’re a small business owner, now that’s a problem,” said LePage.

Another referendum question on the November ballot would increase taxes 3 percent on those who earn more than $200,000 to fund education. If this passes, Maine would have the second highest property tax in the country, LePage said, and would deter professionals from coming here.

LePage said Maine is the 15th-highest state in education costs but 38th in performance. The state could save money in education by regionalizing schools and having less superintendents, he said.

He compared Maine to Florida, which he said has 3 million students and 64 superintendents, and is ranked in the top 10 states for education. Maine had 177,000 students and 127 superintendents, he said.

LePage said he did not support the citizen’s initiative to make marijuana legal because he thought the issue of legalization should be dealt with on a federal level. He called the citizen’s initiative for ranked choice voting “a bad plan,” noting it was repealed in Vermont.

LePage said he opposes the initiative proposing a background check for the sale or transfer of firearms. Maine is one of the safest places in America, he said, while New York and Chicago, which have tougher gun laws, have higher crime rates.

The proposal is not well-written, he said, and if you lend a gun to a friend, they would have to have a background check to get the gun, and you would have to get a background check if you wanted the gun back. It would be impossible to legally enforce the law, and a registry would be put in place instead, he said.

LePage also spoke of a state law asking people who move to Maine from foreign countries who are convicted sex offenders in their home country to voluntarily put themselves on the sex offender list in Maine.

“Now the law’s been in place for two years. I’m still waiting for the first person to sign up,” said LePage, receiving a hearty round of laughter from audience members.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribunecom.

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