FARMINGDALE — Gov. Paul LePage said he wanted prosperity rather than poverty for Mainers and he promoted his campaign to eliminate the state income tax on Tuesday night at a town hall-style meeting at Hall-Dale High School.

“All I’m trying to do is make us prosperous like some other states in the nation,” LePage said.

He described his top issues — taxation being the first — to a quiet audience, in which some people nodded their heads in agreement with his various points.

He said he wants to help people pay off higher education loans and directly address the state’s opiate addiction crisis.

Then LePage told the 60 or so audience members that changing laws to allow these things to happen was up to the legislators. He said he could only implement the laws, not create them or appropriate money.

LePage referred to Democratic legislators in Augusta as socialists, saying many of the Demoratic leaders have endorsed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, “who claims to be a socialist, who has said that if he is elected president, there’s going to be free education and free health care throughout the country.”

LePage said that is impossible because of an outstanding national debt of almost $20 trillion.

He also criticized the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives, saying it had failed to approve a bill bringing the state tax code into conformity with federal tax code.

Part way through the Tuesday evening’s session, Rep. Gay M. Grant, D-Gardiner, told LePage the House had passed the bill. The Senate already had approved a tax conformity bill.

LePage told Grant he would not be submitting a supplemental budget because he intends to work within the one the Legislature already passed.

LePage took a number of questions from people in the audience who had submitted them in writing to his communications director, Adrienne Bennett.

Chad Leighton, of West Gardiner, wanted to know why the operation of the ASPIRE (Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment) program — a welfare-to-work project of the Maine Department of Labor — is being contracted out to a private agency. Leighton said it means he and a number of other state workers will lose their jobs.

LePage told him it is because the program owes the federal government $29 million. LePage said previous administrations had waived the work requirement with regard to two-parent households, something LePage said violates federal law.

Wanda Burns Macomber, of Pittston, said she works with the ASPIRE program. “Why aren’t we revamping our own program? Because once putting something out to contract, you lose control.”

He said unless the Legislature changes the law, the state can no longer run it the way it has been.

Phil Rose, of Farmingdale, asked him why the Maine State Police have been unable to fill 40 or so vacant trooper positions. LePage, with a nod to the troopers positioned at the two auditorium exits, said the salaries the state offers are too low.

“I have a bill in asking for a higher pay scale,” LePage told him, adding that the state has 15 to 20 vacancies in the Maine Warden Service and eight to 10 in the Department of Marine Resources.

LePage was introduced by Cassie DiBenedetti, a sophomore at Hall-Dale and a member of the school senate.

First lady Ann LePage sat in a front row seat at the meeting.

LePage has been holding a series of such meetings around the state to address voters directly.

“I am not here and I’m not doing these town hall meetings for the sake of telling you what you want to hear,” LePage said. “I am trying to tell the people of the state of Maine what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”

He also told them if they disagree, “call my office and blast me.” If they agree, he asked them to call their legislators and tell them to support him.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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