Republicans elected three strong allies of Gov. Paul LePage to leadership positions in the Legislature on Friday, positioning the party to make a strong push for the governor’s top legislative priorities: lowering energy costs and reforming welfare.

He also raised the prospect of eliminating the personal income tax and increasing or broadening the sales tax to make up the lost revenue.

The new Republican leaders are Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport; Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing of Hampden. In the House, Republicans re-elected Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport as minority leader and chose Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester as assistant leader. Espling is new to leadership but also is an ardent LePage supporter.

Democrats are expected to choose their leaders next week.

LePage’s policy initiatives, coupled with the election of closely aligned legislative leaders, could lead to early conflict between the governor and the newly elected Legislature, where Republicans hold a 20-15 edge in the Senate, but Democrats control the House, 79-68.

LePage outlined some of his priorities during interviews on Thursday, his first since winning re-election.


Perhaps the boldest idea he offered was on taxes.

He told some reporters that he wants to lower the income tax on high earners, but in an interview with WCSH 6, LePage said “there is room to eliminate personal income tax.” To make up some of that lost revenue, the governor said he would consider raising or expanding the sales tax.

The personal income tax generated $1.4 billion in revenue in 2012, the most recent figure available Friday.

LePage has never come out in favor of expanding the sales tax before, and Republicans have generally opposed such measures.

LePage’s communications director, Peter Steele, did not respond to follow-up questions on Friday.

Democrats have favored tax reform initiatives in the past that shift the burden from the income tax to sales tax, some of which can be absorbed by tourists, but party leaders contacted Friday wanted to see specifics before weighing in.


The governor told the Associated Press that his top legislative priority would be energy, specifically expanding access to natural gas.

LePage fought a decision by outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, to delay a regional plan that would impose tariffs on electric ratepayers to finance energy projects such as pipelines. He hopes Massachusetts Governor-elect Charlie Baker, a Republican, will help that plan move forward and said it may help save Maine’s failing paper industry.

On welfare, LePage said he would re-introduce proposals, previously rejected by Democrats, to cut the state’s reimbursement levels to cities and towns for general assistance spending.

Although the governor has vetoed multiple efforts to expand Medicaid to roughly 70,000 residents under the federal health care law, he said Maine can do more to offer better access to health insurance at lower costs.

In the WCSH interview, LePage also bemoaned the high number of public school superintendents, something he has criticized before.

“Having 127 superintendents in the state of Maine is outrageous, it’s crazy,” LePage said. “There’s $100 million wasted right there.”


It’s not clear how the governor arrived at $100 million for 127 superintendents, as the highest-paid administrator makes about $150,000.

House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, expects the Republican-controlled Senate to pass bills that won’t pass in the House, and vice versa. But he said the results of the election mean Democrats will have to find common ground wherever they can.

“I am committed to sitting down with the governor,” Eves said. “I have to believe there are areas where we can do things together.”

LePage told WCSH that he is willing to work with Democrats, but “will not negotiate on bad public policy.”

In addition to outlining policy initiatives, LePage made it clear that he would like to alter the way constitutional officers are chosen.

The governor, who has frequently clashed with Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, said he hasn’t been able to get many things done because she has “veto power over the executive branch.”


Many states elect their secretaries of state, attorneys generals and state treasurers through popular vote. In Maine, legislators elect these constitutional officers, which means they are chosen by the party that holds the most seats in both chambers combined, an edge Democrats maintained in Tuesday’s election.

LePage pledged to lead an effort to amend the state constitution and make the attorney general elected by popular vote, but that would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Legislature, and then a majority vote in a statewide referendum.

LePage also said he’d like to see the Democrats replace Eves, because he has not been able to get his cooperation.

Eves is running unopposed as speaker and will have a much smaller majority — 11 seats instead of 30 — to work with in the next session.

The position of House majority leader appears wide open now that the current leader, Rep. Seth Berry, has termed out.

The three candidates in line are: Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, current assistant majority leader, Barry Hobbins, a longtime legislator who has been in leadership in the past and has had a good relationship with LePage, and Mark Dion, former Cumberland County sheriff.

In the Senate, Justin Alfond of Portland is expected to transition from Senate president to Senate minority leader.

The position of assistant minority leader is open and no one has come forward publicly as a candidate.

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