AUGUSTA — The president of the union representing Internal Revenue Service employees has sent a letter to Gov. Paul LePage demanding that he apologize for calling the IRS “the new Gestapo.”

In her letter to LePage, dated Tuesday, Colleen Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union wrote that she was greatly offended by the governor’s “scurrilous and absurd comparisons of these loyal Americans to the murderous secret police behind of one of the darkest events in human history.”

LePage inserted the remark into his weekly radio address after his staff had finished drafting it. The reference, aired Saturday, drew a parallel between the Nazi secret police force and the IRS, which will assess tax penalties to individuals who don’t follow the federal health care law’s requirement to buy health insurance.

The ability of the IRS to collect penalties from the so-called individual mandate is widely disputed, given the enforcement limitations of the Affordable Care Act. Nonetheless, some opponents of the law have said the IRS plans to hire 16,500 agents to enforce the mandate.

The agency has sharply disputed that figure, saying it plans to hire closer to 1,200 employees, many of whom would build the technological infrastructure to support payments and tax credits for individuals and small businesses.

Kelley called the governor’s remark “exactly the type of over-the-top political rhetoric that is not only a disservice to our national discourse, but to the long history of noble public service.”

She said such “irresponsible rhetoric and mischaracterizations of federal employees can also lead to violent attacks on these workers.”

LePage released a statement Monday acknowledging that the Gestapo reference may have clouded his message about the health care law.

State House Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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