Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman discuss Gov. Paul LePage’s second term in office.

Ethan: To quote one of the greatest rock and roll bands, The Who: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” Gov. Paul LePage was inaugurated for his second term last week. Did you hear any change in the way he’s gonna go about doing his job?

Phil: To me, he sounded like “Rock You Like A Hurricane” by the Scorpions. I heard a man who feels content knowing that Maine people gave him the authority to implement a clear agenda focused on tax cuts, welfare reform, right-sizing government, reducing energy costs and creating jobs.

Ethan: As Janice Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Now that his final campaign is behind him (for governor, anyway …), LePage appears ready to go for it. The speech was certainly not, “Why can’t we all just get along and compromise?” It was, “You can join me to implement what I believe Maine people sent me to get done, or choose to get in the way of what is best for Maine.”

Phil: I think he was a little more conciliatory than that, yet he is grounded in confidence that voters sent him and the Legislature a clear message to take action on that agenda. Beyond rejuvenating his first-term policy proposals around reducing taxes and incentivizing those on welfare to get a job, I found his new proposals around education and local control very revealing about what will be headlines in the months ahead.

Ethan: He sure did launch into some unabashed class warfare when he pitted “six figure” earning superintendents against teachers who “have to dig into their pockets” to pay for school supplies. Right out of the Democratic playbook. Love it when you guys copy us in ways you have always decried in the past.

Phil: The big difference is that this is public money we’re talking about. Money that, at a minimum, should be going into classrooms. The governor was simply making the point that we have twice as many superintendents as Florida, with 90 percent fewer students, and Florida students are in the top 10. Ours are in the 30s.

Ethan: Yes, I understand the point. But it’s out of context. They may have half the superintendents, but some of them make close to $300,000 per year! Then, when you add in all the middle managers that do the jobs our superintendents have to perform, their administrative costs are similar if not higher. But instead of pitting different educators against each other, how about we look to both for answers?

Phil: All well and good, but LePage’s point was that local control, from school spending to municipal services, is too redundant and too high. Then school boards and town councilors blame Augusta for not paying their bill.

Ethan: A point I agree with 100 percent. It is absurd that Portland, South Portland and Westbrook don’t work together more closely to get more resources into the hands of the people who need them from schools to policing. But, regardless, this is a local issue, not a state issue.

Phil: It’s actually a county issue, which was his point. Places like Florida use county government to cover much of what local government does in Maine. If he can find a way to challenge locally elected officials to convince property taxpayers that their local wants and great ideas need local funding, we might all be better off financially and perhaps those who need services will be better taken care of most especially.

Ethan: Sure, but LePage doesn’t control what municipalities do or don’t do. Local voters control that. We have tried to use carrots, sticks and even guilt to consolidate schools and jails. So far, the savings have not been seen. Some districts actually backed out after the incentives disappeared and the benefits no longer outweighed the lost control.

Phil: Perhaps local control needs to include local responsibility to pay the bills they ring up. LePage suggested the state negotiate and pay the bill for teachers salaries and benefits that would cover 56 percent of education costs in Maine. Local officials could control the rest. That’s focusing on teachers and students, which is where we all agree is the proper focus.

Ethan: I am intrigued by this idea (it would certainly be a boon to Portland!), but I expect it would be a nightmare. If local communities are able to decide “everything else” that means they rightly get to decide which classes to offer (from alternative education to languages to college prep to arts, etc.) and class size. Those issues affect how many and which specialties need to be filled. Are you suggesting that the state would tell each community that they could only offer certain courses and hold classes with a certain teacher-student ratio?

Phil: I believe he is suggesting that the state would allocate a certain number of teachers per district based on the Essential Programs and Services school funding formula and student population. If you want to do more, you pay for it.

Ethan: And they would pay for Cape Elizabeth’s teachers just as much as Lubec? That means the wealthy communities would be getting as much subsidy as the poor, leaving the poor communities with much less additional revenue to round out the education of their children. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Phil: Obviously, the details have to be worked through. But, as Tina Turner sang in “Proud Mary”: “We never ever do nothing nice and easy. We always do it nice and rough.”

That is how this change will happen.

Ethan: Rough or easy, I suspect most communities are singing, “We’re not gonna take it,” by Twisted Sister, without a lot more detail and assurance.

Phil: Relax, young grasshopper, and listen to “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses. All will be revealed in due time.

Ethan: Just understand, we “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Phil Harriman is a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling is a former Democratic state senator from Portland. They can be contacted on Facebook at Agree to Disagree or Twitter: @senpeh and @ethan6_2.

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