LEWISTON — During an hourlong town hall meeting Tuesday, Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage continued his campaign against the state’s Legislature and its leaders, again promising to push the powers of the executive branch of government to achieve his policy goals.

Before a largely friendly audience of about 100 people, LePage spoke at the Green Ladle culinary arts building, part of Lewiston High School’s Regional Technical Center.

LePage, who spoke for just over an hour, also answered questions from the audience that touched on everything from the what the Maine Principals’ Association does with its money to whether or not the state would ever meet the 55 percent funding mandate for public schools.

Largely unapologetic in his quest to lower the state’s income tax, LePage said not doing so would mean the state would fail in attracting young, growing families to Maine — a state that faces the oldest median age in the nation and is also steadily dying off. LePage said 14,000 Mainers die each year, but only 12,000 are born.

“Ultimately, if we don’t change it, we are going to become extinct,” LePage said. “That’s a simple fact of life.”

Comparing Maine to other states, he said the common denominators for states that were more economically successful and had younger populations were low or no income taxes and less-expensive energy.

Both energy and taxes have been mainstay themes for LePage, and he hammered away at them again on Tuesday. While lawmakers this year did lower the state’s income tax, LePage was largely dissatisfied with the depth of that cut and vetoed their budget just the same.

LePage also repeated a swipe Tuesday he’s taken at state lawmakers previously, saying they fall into three categories: those who are there to do the right thing for the people, those who are there for their own gain and those who simply “go along to get along,” he said.

He also said lawmakers are prone to “throw money at problems and then go to the cocktail party” without ever fixing the underlying root causes of problems.

On a range of topics, LePage blamed the divide between the executive branch and the Legislature in failing to advance policy changes that would break the status quo and repeated his charge that lawmakers from southern Maine dominate the legislative process with the intent of keeping northern Maine poor.

“People in the south part of Maine will not allow people in northern Maine to earn a good living,” LePage said, referencing failed Legislative efforts to allow more mineral mining in northern Maine. “I know it sounds hard and cruel, but it’s a fact.”

LePage, an avowed fiscal conservative, also said increasing the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $15 an hour would kill the economy, destroy the job market for young and entry-level workers and drive up the costs of goods and services for everybody else. He reiterated his view that lawmakers shouldn’t be talking about raising the minimum wage, but instead working so there are enough good-paying jobs that the minimum wage isn’t even an option.

“It will devastate the Maine economy,” LePage said, noting only 6,000 people in the state, excluding waitresses and waiters, were paid the minimum wage.

LePage said he’s been told he is wrong about the minimum wage, but he said arguments that increasing wages won’t be passed on to consumers just isn’t based in fact.  

LePage also took a shot at another favorite target: labor unions and especially the National Education Association and the Maine Education Association, which represent teachers in Maine. LePage said unions and administrators were the only ones who win in Maine schools, but teachers and students had little voice.

When asked by a member of the audience why he was willing to take abuse from the media and his political rivals, LePage answered, saying, “I was born, raised, schooled and worked in Maine. I love it. I love this state; I love the people of this state.”

LePage said three of his adult children and his two grandchildren didn’t live in Maine.

“I find that to be sad,” LePage said. “So I’m willing to take anything they have to throw at me, to make sure we challenge status quo — status quo will keep us poor; prosperity will elevate our standard of living and we can keep our people here.”

He vowed to work to that end “… with every ounce of my blood or until I’m termed out.”

State Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, who attended the meeting Tuesday, said he appreciated LePage’s views on some things, but that LePage also didn’t always paint a full picture of what takes place in Augusta.

Golden said that while lawmakers did lower the state’s income tax, LePage needs to be clear that removing the income tax would result in increases in the property tax and the sales tax.

“We have to talk a lot more about what does that mean for people,” Golden said. He said eliminating the revenue that comes from the income tax in Maine could mean big cuts to government. “We could eliminate all state funding for K-12 education in Maine and we still wouldn’t be making up that loss,” Golden said.

He also said the governor is good at playing to the emotions of people who are dissatisfied with government in general, but that his talk of moving ahead without working with the Legislature was dangerous and not democratic.

“I think that government works best when the executive branch and the legislative branch work together,” Golden said. “I think we find ways to do that when we raise the common ground, and I think that people generally understand you are not going to get 100 percent consensus and that you have to work with people.”

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