Paul LePage invites Democrats to discuss budget options

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AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage was on vacation in Jamaica last week when legislative Democrats unveiled a list of budget priorities they called “The Opportunity Agenda,” which included cuts to property taxes and a range of investments in education, social services and student debt relief. During an interview on WVOM this morning, LePage said some of the Democrats’ priorities are possible.

“If you don’t like my budget, come on down and let’s talk about it,” said LePage. “Much of what we’re trying to do here is improve the prosperity of the Maine people.”

LePage focused on his education proposals — one of which is cutting the number of Maine schools administrative structures from 147 to about a dozen — and said over time that would focus more money on classroom programs. He suggested that revenue for the projects could come from an expansion of the sales tax, which he has proposed in his biennial budget bill, and taxing land that is currently shielded from property taxes because it is in conservation.

“You want to get to 55 percent [state funding for education]? All the land that’s been put into conservation, have them pay property tax,” said LePage. “Bingo, we have the revenue.”

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LePage said Maine’s education model is unsustainable because of dropping student enrollments.

“Whether [Democrats] want to admit it or not, we have a severe out-migration problem,” said LePage, who predicted that public schools enrollment will drop by more than 20,000 students by 2022.

However, data show that out-migration isn’t the problem. In 2016, Maine’s population hit its highest mark since 2010 — at 1,331,479 — thanks to in-migration that began to grow in 2014. The major contributor to demographic changes in Maine, particularly public school enrollments, is that more Mainers are dying than are being born.

Gov. Paul LePage

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