DOVER-FOXCROFT — Gov. Paul LePage told residents of Piscataquis County on Thursday that he doesn’t support a national park in Maine’s North Woods and that he wants to eliminate the income tax on pensions.

When asked by an audience member about a proposal from philanthropist Roxanne Quimby to create a federal park, LePage said Maine can’t afford to permanently preserve land.

“Our forest needs to be a working forest,” he said. “I’m all for conservation. I’m against preservation.”

The town hall forum, which drew about 200 people to the Center Theatre, was the sixth Capitol for a Day tour for LePage, who started in southern Maine in February and has worked his way north. LePage, six of his cabinet members and State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin spent 90 minutes taking audience questions.

Piscataquis County, home of the Red County Caucus, delivered a much friendlier crowd to the event than the June gathering in Rockport. In 2008, Piscataquis was the only one of 66 counties in New England to support John McCain for president.

“We love you governor!” a man yelled from the back of the room as the forum was about to begin. “You’re doing a great job.”

On the other end of the political spectrum, members of the 61 percent group — a reference to the percentage of voters who did not support LePage last fall — attended the forum. No one asked LePage about Wednesday’s resignation of his marine resources commissioner, Norman Olsen.

Instead, the crowd wanted to know about jobs and taxes, education and roads. LePage urged the crowd to call their local legislators to encourage them to support eliminating the income tax on pensions, which he said would ease the burden on retired state workers who are facing freezes in their cost of living increases.

Also, he wants to encourage more retirees to stay in Maine, rather than become residents of Florida or New Hampshire for just over half the year.

“Having people with more affluence is a good thing,” he said.

After the meeting, John McGough, LePage’s chief of staff, said the administration is working with Maine Revenue Services to find out the costs involved with eliminating the tax on pensions. But he said continuing to lower taxes remains high on the governor’s to-do list.

LePage and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said they will continue to crack down on welfare fraud and that the administration is committed to supporting welfare programs for needy Mainers. LePage said recently he wants the Legislature to again consider changing eligibility requirements for Medicaid to reduce the number of people in Maine on the health insurance program.

He also urged the public to call the Department of Health and Human Services with tips on people who are cheating the system.

“When somebody takes their (welfare benefits) card and buys $159 worth of live lobsters and sells it for $75 so they can go buy drugs, it’s a problem,” he said.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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