AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage issued a challenge to the Maine Education Association Wednesday, saying he’s ready to spend more money on teacher training if the union spends money too.

“For every dollar the MEA puts up for professional development for their teachers, we’ll match it,” he said, drawing applause from those gathered at the Maine Tax Forum held at the Augusta Civic Center. “I believe they collect dues and right now those dues go to Washington at the end of the year for political campaigns. I think the dues should be invested back in to the educators in the state of Maine.”

He also said many teachers leave the profession after only a few years because they don’t get the support they need.

“The problem is union bosses that come out of Washington and come to Maine and cause a whole lot of confusion and not put their money where their mouth is,” he said. “They like to extract money, but they don’t like to leave it here and develop their teachers to become more effective. We’re going to challenge them to do that.”

The comments were part of a speech in which LePage talked about his three biggest goals for the upcoming legislative session — energy, education and the economy. Hundreds of tax professionals, accountants and others took a break from learning about federal and state tax changes to listen to the governor’s keynote address.

Chris Galgay, president of the Maine Education Association, said the union does provide classes for beginning teachers and mentoring to help teachers become nationally certified. He said he wants to hear more from LePage about this idea.

“If he had a plan and asked us if we wanted to be part of the plan, I’d sit down and talk with him about it,” he said.

And, when it comes to union bosses, Galgay said they get support — not direction — from their national union.

“The NEA president has little control of what the states are doing,” he said. “The national association is more about me reaching out to them for support or them saying what can we do for your members in Maine.”

He said most of the dues Maine teachers pay to the national union come back to the state.

The Maine branch of the union has an annual budget of about $8 million and that the union represents 20,000 teachers and others who work in schools, along with community college faculty.

At the tax forum, LePage continued to tout his idea that the income tax on retiree pensions should be eliminated. He said he will put forward a proposal in January to eliminate the tax on military, private and public-sector pensions. That would cost $93 million, according to Maine Revenue Services.

LePage did not say how he plans to cover the loss in revenue. His spokeswoman said the full plan will be released in January.

“There are a number of things we can do to achieve those savings,” said LePage Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett. “There’s a number of programs in state government that haven’t been looked at in years. Are they doing what they are supposed to be doing?”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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