LEWISTON — Gov. Paul LePage drew rousing applause from the crowd several times during Sunday's Tax Day Rally at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston. Sponsored by Maine Taxpayers United, the rally aimed to raise awareness and remind Mainers everywhere the state carries one of the highest tax burdens in the nation.
"We have barely touched the surface. We have yet to convince the legislature that we need structural changes in the State of Maine," LePage told the crowd of about 200. "In my mind, we're nibbling. We've been nibbling for two years and we need to get to the heart of the issue."
According to Maine Taxpayers United, the state ranks sixth in the nation for the amount of taxes paid by its citizens, but 48th in personal income. LePage said Mainers make 82 percent of the national average for household income and stressed his mission to reduce taxes for Maine families in an effort to raise that number to 100 percent.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the numbers provided were based on the 2008-10 median per capita income for New England states. Among the five states, Maine ranked last at $40,082 compared to New Hampshire, which ranked first at $66,303.
LePage said that figures recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Maine's income growth for 2011 was just 3.4 percent, compared to the national average of 5.1 percent. The sometimes embattled governor took sharp aim at legislators and lobbyists who he said criticize his attempts to cut spending and reduce taxes without offering solutions or alternatives.
"They will criticize. They will complain. And they will sit on their hands — which they have done for two years — without offering one item that would help bring the per capita income up to 100 percent," LePage said. "It's tough being governor. Not only do you have to listen to this all the time, but you have to sit in oversight of the largest adult daycare in the state of Maine."
In addition to reducing taxes, LePage criticized lobbyists and legislators supporting the state's present 100 megawatt limitation on all energy producers except wind because the latter is considered a renewable source. He pointed to Barber Foods in Portland as an example of a company losing jobs over the state's high cost of electricity. LePage said the Oklahoma based company that recently bought Barber Foods is moving production to the Midwest because the cost of electricity there is nearly half the cost in Maine.
Without naming names, LePage took specific aim at former governor Angus King, who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat left by Sen. Olympia Snowe. LePage said lobbyists and politicians repeatedly block legislation allowing the state to purchase electricity from a hydroelectric plant in Canada. The move could potentially reduce the standard rate paid by Mainers from 7.9 cents per kilowatt to 5-6 cents per kilowatt.
LePage also talked at length about education and welfare reform — two more hot-button issues facing the legislature right now.
"I'm known as a person who hates welfare," LePage said. "Well, folks, I've been there."
LePage reminded the crowd of his humble roots growing up across the street from the Franco-American Heritage Center — working and going to school. However, he also stressed that the state is paying $297 million more than the national average to support its welfare system.
On the education front, LePage said the national average spent per year is $10,000 per student, but Maine spends $4,000 more per year per student - bringing the state's investment to $740 million more than the national average. The governor then pointed to several statistics, including the state's 21 percent dropout rate, and 54 percent of its students entering the community college system requiring remedial coursework.
"Folks — we're failing. It's not working," LePage said of the amount of spending at the state level.
LePage called on politicians in Augusta — including those from his own Republican Party — to do what's right. He urged the crowd to hold elected officials' feet to the fire and hold them accountable to their districts and those they represent.
"In the state of Maine, each and every one of us in this room is spending $1,106 per year above the rest of our fellow Americans, and it doesn't have to be that way," LePage said. "All it takes is a little courage."
Other speakers rallied the crowd to make their voices known from local government races to Washington D.C.
Mary Adams, a tax activist and grassroots leader of the failed 2006 referendum effort to enact a Taxpayer Bill of Rights in Maine, called on the crowd to fight politicians she called "Redcoats." According to Adams, such politicians strive to make government larger while shrinking the voices and wallets of everyday citizens.
Adams urged rally goers not to vote for any politician in the upcoming November elections who has not signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Organized by Americans for Tax Reform, the pledge asks every candidate for state and federal elected office to make a written commitment to their constituents to oppose and vote against tax increases.
LePage signed the pledge when he ran for governor in 2010.
"It's all about taxes — right?" asked Joe Boyd, of West Gardiner, who attended the rally. "And I'm concerned about taxes. I believe in lower taxes for American citizens. I definitely believe taxes are too high and they need to do something about lowering taxes — especially in Maine."