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LePage Promises Lower Taxes and Less Welfare in Inauguration Speech

Mark Vogelzang
Gov. Paul LePage at his 2nd inauguration Wednesday.

AUGUSTA, Maine - It could have been bold and it could have been brash, but instead, Gov. Paul LePage's inaugural message carefully touched upon familiar themes, as the popular Republican prepares for his second term in office and the beginning of a new legislative session.

Tax reform, welfare reform and affordable energy were all major topics in the governor's 40-minute speech. And LePage also called for reducing the costs of local government.

Pundits and politicos had predicted that Gov. LePage's second inaugural speech would scorch the earth, reflecting a re-elected Republican administration that would escalate welfare cuts that his Democratic opponents are fond of referring to as "a war on the poor." But LePage instead delivered a speech that emphasized populist goals and a desire to collaborate with lawmakers in the audience.

"If we want to improve services and lower the costs of living in the state of Maine, we need to to have the courage to work together," LePage said. "Coming from a dark side - a governor who's been accused of being on the dark side - I really do want to work with you."

He began the speech before more than 3,000 people at the Augusta Civic Center by detailing his accomplishments over the last four years, including repaying a $750 million Medicaid debt to Maine's hospitals, passing the largest tax cut in Maine history, slashing the welfare rolls in half and working with the private sector to create 20,000 jobs.

LePage said his administration was listening to the concerns of Maine people, and again, reached out to lawmakers attending the swearing-in ceremony. "We hope the 127th Legislature is listening also," LePage said. "The election sent a clear message: Maine people want action - not small talk."

"I was impressed by the tone of his speech," says Rep. Barry Hobbins. Hobbins, of Saco, was among several Democratic lawmakers who viewed LePage's demeanor as a sign of what could be a better working relationship with the Legislature in the weeks ahead. Hobbins says the governor seems to be trying to open communications.

"That should be the pledge of all leaders in the Republican party and Democratic party is to get together," Hobbins says, "because we will get nothing done in this session unless we can meet some criteria on openness and consensus-building and trying to meet half-way on some issues."

Among those issues are efforts to reduce fraud and abuse within the state's welfare system. Republican House Leader Ken Fredette, of Newport, says focus will also be placed on funding programs that put Mainers back to work. Fredette says Republicans are looking forward to seeing how LePage will fund his agenda, the details of which are contained in his two-year state budget proposal that's expected to be released on Friday.

Fredette says it will include the ambitious goal of income tax reform. "In terms of Maine history really lowering and ratcheting down that income tax rate, you have to look at how that's going to be paid for," he says, "and that's probably going to be the challenge in terms of how everything works out."

LePage says he'll continue to campaign against domestic violence, and excessive municipal spending. And he also wants greater control over funding infrastructure improvements through bonding.

"We will be telling you what projects that we need to spend the authorized bonds on in the coming year," LePage said. "We're not going to wait and have a battle over bonds like we did until we paid the hospitals."

Democratic leaders say they are encouraged that LePage does not intend to withhold bonding as he did two years ago during negotiations over his plan to repay a major debt to Maine hospitals.