AUGUSTA –– The $6.3 billion budget proposed by Gov. Paul LePage dominated the conversation Tuesday at the State House even as Republican and Democratic legislative leaders held several media events to promote their policy agendas.

Republicans did not offer an endorsement of LePage’s ambitious tax code overhaul — which would increase the sales tax while expanding it to 200 goods and services that are not taxed now. That shouldn’t be a surprise, given that many sitting Republican legislators campaigned against a 2009 tax reform plan crafted by Democrats and overturned in a 2010 referendum that included a comparable expansion of the sales tax.

The governor’s budget is designed to reduce Mainers’ tax burden by $300 million through an income tax cut, and Republicans have embraced some elements of the proposal publicly while reserving judgment on the sales tax piece. Republican leaders, who will be asked to help carry the governor’s budget within their caucus, have focused on lowering the income tax.

“True, our members do not like taxes because it is a fundamental taking of people’s money,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, a prominent opponent of the Democrats’ 2009 tax reform plan. “But there is a difference between a mandatory taking from your income and a consumption tax of something that you choose to buy. If you decide to go to the movies or you decide to go skiing or golfing, that is a voluntary decision on your part.”

The governor, meanwhile, has launched a public and private push to champion the plan. In addition to appearances on conservative talk radio programs, LePage briefed Republican House and Senate caucuses on Tuesday before highlighting aspects of his tax rewrite plan to several hundred people at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta.

“I believe in the next five or six years we could totally eliminate the income tax,” LePage said during the show. “That money is earned by Mainers and it should stay in Mainers’ pockets. We can allow the folks that visit Maine through tourism and people who would like to buy a second home in Maine to pay a little more of the bill since they are enjoying the beautiful state of Maine that we work really hard to keep. So we should get paid for that.”

Richard Rosen, the governor’s finance chief, also discussed the budget in a meeting with the Legislature’s budget committee and privately with lawmakers in the hallways of the State House.

Democrats on Tuesday announced a legislative agenda focused on job training, workforce development, raising wages and making college more affordable.


The agenda was short on specifics and in many ways echoed the themes of the 2014 election, which saw Republicans win both the Blaine House and control of the state Senate. Democratic leadership did not mention LePage’s budget and tax proposal until asked by the news media.

The party plans a “jobs tour” throughout the state to hear from both employers and employees.

“The workers of our state have been in this very, very difficult place for years now with stagnant wages and health care costs going up and all of our costs going up,” said Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland. “So we really want to hear from them about what they need in order to stay in their jobs, maybe get higher wages.”

Senate Republican leaders, meanwhile, highlighted several nonbudget bills, including one focused on early college and career technical education.

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, applauded House Democrats’ move to abandon what he described as the “obstructionist” tone over the past two years for one of bipartisanship. However, he said he hoped Democrats would work in a collaborative fashion “with their votes, not just their rhetoric.”

Addressing the governor’s budget, Fredette said it would stimulate a “conversation aimed toward attracting capital and investment to Maine that has been sorely needed.” Asked whether increasing the sales tax was a problem for members of his caucus, Fredette said, “People just want to have an understanding of how it all interrelates.”

Fredette said the budget aimed toward a radical overhaul of the tax code and state government. “In this particular budget you can’t pull out any single piece and say, ‘I don’t like this.’ It is truly transformational in its approach. All the pieces are connected,” he said.


The budget proposes eliminating state revenue sharing to cities and towns, which this fiscal year provided roughly $60 million to municipalities and is designed to hold the line on property taxes. In the place of revenue sharing, LePage has proposed allowing localities to tax large nonprofit organizations, an initiative that could benefit southern Maine and those areas with more nonprofit properties disproportionately.

Meanwhile, the governor, a proponent of stronger county government, has proposed new funding for old programs designed to incentivize the consolidation of school districts and regionalize services such as police, fire and road maintenance.

Republican Rep. Eleanor Espling of New Gloucester, the assistant House minority leader, was asked what members from rural districts such as hers thought of the governor’s plan.

“I think they really want to understand what’s proposed so they can go back to their districts and talk about it with their citizens and get feedback from their constituents,” she said. “There hasn’t been super strong feelings on any one piece.”

Steve Mistler — 791-6345

[email protected]

Twitter: stevemistler

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