ELLSWORTH — Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday defended his proposal to give welfare recipients drug tests, saying he doesn’t want tax money going to support people’s drug habits.

“You can call it unconstitutional, but until the Supreme Court of the United States judges it, I say it’s constitutional,” he said in response to a question from an audience member at a town hall meeting.

Last week, LePage said he planned to ask lawmakers in January if they would institute a drug testing program for those who receive welfare benefits. A similar system in Florida is in court facing a constitutional challenge.

LePage continued to say Thursday that truck drivers must submit to drug tests, and so should people who receive tax money.

While speaking to an audience at Ellsworth Middle School, LePage also responded to a question from Kay Wilkins of Ellsworth who asked him if he thought a flier authorized by Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster was homophobic. She also asked him if he would call for Webster to resign.

Just before Tuesday’s election, Webster paid for a flier that alerted voters that EqualityMaine donated money and time to help overturn the Republican-backed law that banned election day voter registration. It also highlighted donations the group made to “elect Democrat candidates to the Maine Legislature” and raised the question “why is this special interest group so interested in repealing Maine election laws?”

LePage said he has not seen the advertisement, which ran in several small newspapers in northern Maine.

“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “I’m not empowered to fire or hire anybody in the Republican Party. If it is homophobic, I don’t support it.”

He went on to say that Question 1 will require cities and towns to hire more help on election day. LePage opposed the people’s veto effort.

“Question 1 was a good question,” he said. “It had nothing to do with homophobic. It had nothing to do with fraud.”

He said as mayor of Waterville, he saw clerks work 18 hour days or longer on election night. They need more help verifying voter registrations before an election and help tallying results after, he said.

It was LePage’s 10th Capitol for a Day town hall meeting, an effort by the governor to answer questions directly from Mainers in each of the state’s 16 counties. About 150 people attended the event in the Ellsworth Middle School cafeteria, where lunch tables were replaced with rows of chairs and the governor and key Cabinet members sat jammed together behind two tables on the stage.

LePage, who was joined by five commissioners and State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, drew applause from the crowd when he talked about his plan to eliminate the income tax on pensions. He also talked about the importance of lowering the cost of energy to stimulate business growth, and lowering welfare costs so Maine is consistent with what’s often available in other states.

In the area of health care, an audience member said he can only afford catastrophic coverage, and wanted to know if LePage would support a plan that covered everybody.

“Yes,” LePage said. “Now, would I support a plan that covers everybody and the taxpayer pays for it? No.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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