MADISON — As the governor prepares for a public town-hall style meeting on Thursday, residents and officials are gearing up with their questions and comments.

Some want to know how Gov. Paul LePage will improve economic conditions in central Maine, what services will be cut to balance the state budget and how he plans to reduce insurance costs for small businesses.

The free Capitol for a Day event is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Madison Area Junior High School, at 205 Main St.

“It gives people the opportunity to ask their questions. I expect we’ll probably get a lot on the education proposals,” said Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary.

The governor’s proposals include providing public funding for religious schools and granting students more school choice regardless of their town or district lines.

“Also, budget questions are a very popular topic, and we may have some local issues that come up, such as Madison’s natural gas pipeline that’s in the works,” Bennett said.

LePage plans to visit businesses in Somerset County during the day, including clergy apparel outfitters CM Almy in Pittsfield, paper mill Madison Paper Industries, Family Violence Project in Skowhegan, and Maine Woods Pellet Co. in Athens, she said. He will have lunch at the Heritage House in Skowhegan.

At a Capitol for a Day event Jan. 19 in Lewiston, LePage said he would close schools on April 1 if the Legislature didn’t act quickly to address a $221 million shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget.

Residents and officials interviewed Tuesday said they are glad LePage is coming to Somerset County, and they are ready with questions.

Madison Town Manager Dana Berry wants to know LePage’s vision for economic development in the region. He said he also has questions about the expansion of the electric power grid in Maine, such as whether it will have an effect on customers’ electric rates.

Madison resident Richard Bartlett, who is a member of the Maine Municipal Association’s Legislative Policy Committee, said he is concerned that possible cuts at the state level will cause towns and cities to pick up the cost. Bartlett is also a Madison assessor.

LePage announced in December his plan to cut $221 million from DHHS in 2012 and 2013. That plan would have eliminated MaineCare coverage for about 65,000 people. MaineCare is the state’s version of Medicaid.

Though members of the Appropriations Committee rejected aspects of the governor’s budget, Bartlett questioned what LePage had planned for the people who would have lost their health care coverage.

“What are you going to do with those real, real hardship cases if 65,000 people were dumped off the rolls?” he said. He said he feared the burden would fall to municipalities.

Mike Staples, who owns Staples Hardware in Bingham with his wife, Debbie, said he wants the governor to know there is a need for Maine’s small businesses to have more health insurance options.

He and his wife go without health care because they don’t qualify for certain programs, and others cost more than they can afford. For example, under DirigoHealth, which oversees the state’s subsidized health insurance program, they qualify in terms of their income but not in terms of their assets.

“I’m one serious sickness or one serious injury away from being bankrupt,” he said. “The premiums are just too much. I can’t do it. So we just get up every morning and pray that nothing happens.”

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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