Many continue to lament Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to cut more than $400 million from revenue sharing to municipalities in his budget for the next two budget years.
In his State of the State address on Tuesday, LePage said he didn’t like his proposal, but it was a necessary evil in the face of less palatable options, such as cutting “welfare,” education or raising taxes.
In a late-January radio address, LePage also referred to his eight years as Waterville mayor as it relates to his plan, saying he was able to balance budgets while reducing property taxes.
On taxes, he has a point.
According to the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s open-government website, Waterville’s property taxes increased only 20 percent from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2011. When you account for inflation and population growth over that time, the center estimates they could reasonably have increased 32 percent over the period.
Of 18 Maine municipalities with more than 10,000 residents, the site says Waterville’s increase was the lowest.
But as mayor, LePage also liked state funding.
For example, he clashed with the administration of Gov. John Baldacci in 2009 when the state changed the way it reimbursed schools, leaving Waterville with likely $1.1 million less in funding than it expected. That change was discovered days before LePage announced his 2010 gubernatorial run.
A story then in the Morning Sentinel said the then-mayor “blasted Gov. John Baldacci’s administration for what LePage called forcing costly unfunded mandates onto communities that cannot afford them.”
“All they’re doing is transferring state responsibility onto taxpayers, and people keep falling for this governor’s bull–,” he was quoted as saying.
The story said LePage doubled down on those remarks later, saying “I think the people of Maine should rally against this administration,” and again, “It’s bull–.”
Later, the story said, LePage looked into the local cable-access camera recording the meeting and said: “Governor, please watch this show. You’ve got to go back to the blackboard.”
Baldacci’s spokesman told the Sentinel later that month that LePage was “trying to make a name for himself by calling us names.”
Baldacci and LePage have been criticizing each other a lot lately as the Democrat discusses another bid for the Blaine House, telling the Press Herald on Thursday he’ll wait until April to announce whether he’s running.
It’ll be interesting to see how the archenemies comport themselves as the budget fight drags out.
There’s been a steady drumbeat of comments about the need to either consolidate municipal services or find efficiencies ever since the governor included a two-year suspension of municipal aid in his two-year budget.
The subtext of this narrative is that few Republicans and Democrats seem to think that LePage’s revenue sharing suspension is workable. However, the resurgence of the consolidation discussion is also dogged by history.
In short, lots of folks think consolidation is a good idea until they have to do it.
Take Baldacci’s school district consolidation law. Baldacci made the eerily familiar argument that the state had too many school superintendents. Over the protests of many in his party and Republicans, the governor pushed through the consolidation law anyway.
Since then, Republicans and Democrats have introduced many bills to either repeal the consolidation law, repeal the penalty provision or make their district exempt.
Members of the 124th Legislature introduced 16 such proposals. There were nearly a half-dozen during the Republican-led 125th Legislature. There are four proposals for the current Legislature.
State-led efforts to increase municipal services consolidation have been fewer, but met similar fates.
A proposal by former Cornville lawmaker Peter Mills, a Republican, would have created incentives for towns to find additional ways to share services. That bill, LD 1220, was introduced during the 124th Legislature. It was unanimously rejected in committee and died before ever seeing a vote by the full Legislature.
Baldacci also championed a grant program to encourage consolidation. In 2008, the program gave Lewiston and Auburn over $500,000 to assist in what was considered a groundbreaking consolidation effort. After three years of work and a plan that was lauded by local leaders, the L-A consolidation fizzled when the two cities disbanded the consolidation commission.
Vague on revenues
Democratic leadership has not said whether it will seek to roll back or suspend implementation of the tax cut package that was passed in 2011. They’re facing increasing pressure to take a stand on the issue now that major savings initiatives in LePage’s budget are considered widely unpopular.
Last week, Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, was pressed on whether raising taxes would be part of the Democrats’ budget solution.
“You’re right we are being vague,” Alfond said. “We have a supplemental budget that we have to complete this week. We have to vote it out and we’ll have many, many months to talk about the tough cuts, finding efficiencies, a fair tax system, so more to come on that.”
I’ll be here all night
Gov. Paul LePage tossed out a few zingers during his State of the State address. A sampling:
* “Tonight, I am here to update you, the people of Maine, on the condition of our great state. Everything is fine. Thank you for coming. Good night.”
* “That’s why I’m angry: education, domestic violence, energy. But I’m doing better. I’m working on it.”
* “Wow, that’s a familiar number for me, 39 percent.” (After citing statistics that only 39 percent of eighth graders read to proficiency standards. It’s a bit of an inside joke, but it’s the same percentage of the vote that LePage won in 2010.)
State House Bureau reporters Steve Mistler and Michael Shepherd compiled this report.