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Politics

LePage hands in petitions to run for governor, while criticizing Mills' plan to send Mainers $500

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Steve Mistler
/
Maine Public
Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage submitted his ballot signatures to the Secretary of State Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. He used the occasion to call on Democratic Gov. Janet Mills to ditch her plan to use the state's forecasted budget surplus to provide Maine residents with direct $500 checks and instead use it for income tax cuts.

Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage submitted his ballot signatures to the Secretary of State Wednesday. He used the occasion to call on Democratic Gov. Janet Mills to ditch her plan to use the state's forecasted budget surplus to provide Maine residents with direct $500 checks and instead use it for income tax cuts.

So far, the central argument in LePage's bid for a third nonconsecutive term is an old saw he used repeatedly during his two terms as governor: Cut or eliminate the state income tax.

The former governor's ambition of zeroing out the income tax was never realized, and his 2015 plan to dramatically reduce it failed in part because he was unable to convince Republican legislators to partially replace the lost revenue via an expansion of the sales tax.

But LePage is talking about it again as a wedge issue with Mills.

"Please, Gov. Mills, take the $400 million and instead of giving people $500 checks lower the income tax effective immediately, so in 2021 people can get money right now and fill their oil tanks," he said.

Maine's income tax accounts for about 40% of the state's annual revenue, or about $1.6 billion.

The state's forecasted budget surplus is about $822 million and it's built off of one-time federal pandemic money and tax revenues — including income tax revenues — that are anticipated through the end of the current and next fiscal year.

An income tax cut now would no doubt slash the surplus forecast, which Mills hopes to use to fund the direct payments for inflation relief, free community college for recent high school graduates and other initiatives.

Mills was in Farmington Wednesday touting her plan to expand access to childcare, an initiative she included in her recent supplemental budget proposal.

Her campaign did not respond directly to LePage's remarks, but instead issued a statement focusing on her achievements and policy goals for the remainder of the legislative session.

“Under the leadership of Governor Mills, Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates, one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates, a record budget surplus, and a record high Rainy Day Fund. Our unemployment claims are back to pre-pandemic levels, our GDP is growing, and our economy is making a comeback,” campaign manager Alexandra Raposo said. “Governor Mills is focused on delivering what Maine people need – like more housing, child care, and broadband and financial relief to combat inflation – so that we can keep moving Maine forward.”