Gov. Paul LePage set out a number of long-range priorities for the state and confirmed he's likely to run for re-election in 2014 in a speech and discussion before a Portland audience Wednesday morning.
In a wide-ranging discussion, LePage told Portland Regional Chamber CEO Chris Hall the "likelihood is yes" that he'll run again and reiterated his stance on a broad range of topics, including energy costs, hospital payments and education.
LePage defended his $6.3 billion budget proposal under review in the Legislature, saying that the proposed education cuts and suspension of municipal revenue sharing, which he called "subsidized home rule," raises necessary debates over the cost of local government administration and home rule.
"Do people like (the proposed budget)? No. Do I like it? Not especially," LePage said. "But it's balanced and brings out debate..."
As the Legislature faces the challenge of a two-year budget and about 1,000 bills still in committee, LePage said his relationship with Democratic leaders controlling the House and Senate is weak, adding he has no relationship with Senate President Justin Alfond. LePage said his door is open to House Speaker Mark Eves but the two haven't talked beyond discussing the state's hospital debt, which LePage said remains his top priority.
Democrats have asked LePage to expand Medicare under the Affordable Care Act as part of a plan to pay the state's $186 million in hospital debt. But LePage reiterated Wednesday that he feels the expansion, which would be covered in full by the federal government for three years, would be bad for the state in the long run because federal payments to cover the expansion are drawn down.
On education, LePage defended his administration's recent grading of Maine's schools, which he said has worked in Florida, under Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Jeb told me that the first year they'll want to burn you in effigy," LePage said. "The second year, they'll want you to run for president."
LePage said it remains unclear how those grades will be used to improve schools but the options are open. One proposal was referred to the Legislature's Education Committee Tuesday to allow the state to take action against schools failing to show significant improvement over two years and would allow students at those schools to go somewhere else, according to the Bangor Daily News.
LePage also said he's generally opposed to a tax overhaul proposed by a bipartisan group of legislators. That proposal would, in general, raise sales taxes and lower income taxes.
Early on in his speech, LePage hit a familiar refrain from his State of the State address earlier this year when he called for the state to adopt right-to-work legislation that would weaken a union's ability to collect dues and recruit members. LePage said that issue and energy costs were concerns when he met with executives from aircraft manufacturer Airbus who were exploring moving some of their operations to Maine.
Looking ahead, LePage said his long-range goals for the state are to see an M.D.-granting medical school in the state, construction of an east-west highway and development of Maine's deepwater ports -- Eastport, Searsport and Portland -- into the busiest in the country.
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