LePage: Surtax to boost school aid ‘punishes success’

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage continued his passionate opposition to the 3 percent surtax to support public schools today when he said he knows of “at least 40 to 50 professionals” who are moving out of Maine to avoid higher income taxes.

He later hinted that he might become one of those professionals “forced” to leave Maine, a personal exodus scenario he’s floated in the past. LePage has never favored an increase in the income tax rate and is especially offended by the surtax on income over $200,000 a year approved by voters last year.

“I’ve spoken to at least a dozen people that said enough is enough. You’re just greedy,” LePage said on WVOM. “Maine has become so greedy that they hate success. They’re punishing success.”

The governor did not break any new ground today with his arguments against Question 2. He relied heavily on anecdotes — acknowledging that he has not kept count of the number of high-income people who have left Maine — and touted a recent report his administration prepared to combat Question 2. But his staff didn’t answer questions about it earlier this month and others have questioned the methodology.

It comes during a somewhat friendly moment for education funding in Augusta: The Legislature’s Education Committee voted 12-0 to fund schools at 55 percent of a minimum state standards on Monday.

Such a move would be a big deal, since the state has never met that threshold, established by referendum in 2004. But while the new referendum has ramped up pressure to get there, Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on how.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, would like to scrap the surtax and replace it with a sales tax on online purchases. However, Democrats on the Taxation Committee defended the surtax in a Monday statement, saying Mainers “have twice told us to fully fund education” and they’re “not interested in eliminating that funding to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy on the backs of middle class Mainers.”

If it’s going to happen, it’ll be hammered out in budget negotiations this spring, with LePage and his veto pen looming if he finds any legislative compromise unpalatable. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Advocates will ask PUC to reconsider solar ruling

Solar advocates are holding a news conference at the State House today as the latest move in an interminable energy battle, and there are two major things at play.

Democratic lawmakers plan to push two bills to preserve and boost the future of solar power incentives, according to the Portland Press Herald. But advocates are trying to change the past, too. Dot Kelly, an energy industry veteran who lives in Phippsburg, petitioned the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Monday to reconsider a controversial solar policy ruling.

Kelly wants the commission to go into more detail to address specific concerns raised in 25 filings and 305 public comments, writing, “Only a select handful of commenters were listed by name and many comments were not specifically addressed in the order.”

She wants the commission to address three things, in particular:

  1. how it determined that incentives for solar shift costs to other customers.
  2. why it ignored the value of solar power established in a commission study.
  3. how the reduction in net metering payments meets the intent of a policy to encourage solar generation.

The commission can reopen the case or deny the request. If denied, petitioners can appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. — Darren Fishell

Quick hits

  • LePage says Obama ignored Maine, blasts press. Asked on WVOM about President Donald Trump’s activity on Twitter, LePage offered full-throated support and said Maine was largely ignored by Democratic President Barack Obama, calling Trump’s presidency “a window of opportunity that Maine has not had for the previous eight years.” LePage also ended the interview with a parting shot at the media, saying Trump “feels the same way I do about the press” and that “all they want to do is control who he is and what he does.” — Christopher Cousins
  • Mainer headed to D.C. to discuss grandparents raising grandchildren because of drugs. The Senate Aging Committee, which is chaired by Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, will host a hearing Tuesday titled “Grandparents to the Rescue: Raising Grandchildren in the Opioid Crisis and Beyond.” Among those testifying will be Bette Hoxie, executive director of Adoptive & Foster Families of Maine and the Kinship Program in Orono. The purpose of the meeting will be to explore the plights of grandparents raising young children because of the opioid epidemic. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in this morning and you can see their calendars here and here, respectively. There is a dense committee schedule this afternoon.

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • A bird named Larry?: This person says they named their bird “Larry” after the Celtics legend, which they think is “pretty funny because Larry Bird is a basketball player but a bird can’t play basketball, can it!” Here’s your Larry Bird fight video.
  • Love in the ReaLime aisle: A man and a woman “talked in the condiment aisle about lemon and lime juice and again at checkout” at a Hannaford in South Portland. Now, he’s regretting not waiting to walk out with her, saying she’s “stunning! :)” Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd
Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.