LePage: Next state budget proposal won’t pay for school superintendents

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage said today he wants to push the cost of paying school superintendents to the local level.

LePage’s comments came during his regular radio appearance on WVOM and offered one of the first glimpses of what to expect from his next state budget proposal, which is due in January.

“All of the backroom operations will be done at the [school] units but if a school district wants to have a principal and a superintendent, the locals will have to pay for it,” said LePage. “The problem is not the education system. The problem is our attitude here in Maine. We believe in home rule. If you believe, then be willing to pay for it. Not the state. It should not be the state’s burden. It should be the local community’s burden.”

LePage has long lamented the number of superintendents in Maine and pointed to other states like Florida, a much more populous state that has far few superintendents, as examples of what Maine’s public school administration system should look like. This topic usually comes up when LePage talks about school funding, which he said is far too tilted toward administrative costs.

LePage’s latest criticism of Maine school administrators came during a conversation about his opposition to Question 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

John Kosinski of the Stand Up for Students campaign, reacted by saying that if LePage is concerned about administrative costs, he should support the Stand Up for Students initiative, which is Question 2 on the November ballot. The initiative would place a 3 percent tax on individual income over $200,000 and earmark the money for public schools. It specifically states that the money cannot be used for administration costs.

Kosinski said LePage’s proposal to block state money from paying superintendents is another example of his ongoing efforts to shift costs that state government has historically shouldered to the local level through tax cuts for higher earners, reducing municipal revenue sharing and pushing teacher retirement costs to property taxpayers.

“I’m not surprised to hear the governor say he’s going to push more costs onto local towns,” said Kosinski. “That’s what we’ve seen for the past six years. … Every state has a different structure for how they manage their schools. … The governor doesn’t tell the whole story. What I know is our schools are trying to do the best they can with limited resources.”

The governor has long sparred with the teachers union. On Tuesday, he again singled out the union and superintendents as winners in an ideological and funding conflict that leaves teachers and students as losers.

LePage called Question 2 the “scariest” of all five referendums on the November ballot because it would drive away professionals — including doctors, dentists and entrepreneurs — who would be subject to the new taxes.

“Why would I go to Maine for the privilege of paying a higher income tax when I could go to New Hampshire, where there is no income tax?” said LePage.

LePage also argued that school spending by state government has gone from $892 million a year when he took office to about $1.1 billion now. While that’s true, most of the increase is due to the Legislature adding tens of millions of dollars of education money to LePage’s budget proposals, which LePage then vetoed for a variety of reasons. LePage has proposed modest increases that education professionals say have failed to keep up with the increasing cost of public education.

“I have been the most pro-education governor in the history of this state,” said LePage. “I have undone a lot of stuff that was poorly done by other governors.”

LePage, who has faced years of criticism for his austere education proposals, has said in the past that his final two years in office would be marked by more efforts at education reform. It looks like that will start in his next budget proposal, though he acknowledged he expects modest progress at best.

“I’m suggesting that it will be an election campaign issue in two years,” said LePage. “It will get here but it will probably not get here right away.”

With that, it seems the 2018 gubernatorial election campaign has begun. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Bank blues: Wells Fargo, the superbank that’s under fire for deceptive practices, including creating fake accounts in order to meet quotas, continues to be a lightning rod issue in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District election. Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who grilled the Wells Fargo CEO last week in a congressional hearing, is being attacked by his Democratic opponent, Emily Cain, for having taken a $2,000 donation from Wells Fargo’s political action committee,even though he announced he will give the money to charity. Today, Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett shot back at Democrats by calling on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to return $250,000 she has received from the troubled bank. Linking Cain and Clinton has been a core strategy by Republicans.
  • Ad wars: Cain and Poliquin continue a feisty advertisement war. On Monday, Cain supporters called on the National Republican Campaign Committee to cease broadcast of an advertisement about a student obesity bill she voted for while she was in the Legislature. Cain argues that the advertisement is out of context and ignores the fact the bill was sponsored by a Republican. Meanwhile, Cain continued on a theme she has been pushing for months, if not years, in a new ad structured around Poliquin dodging questions.
  • GOP ground game: It’s likely you’ll hear from the Maine GOP this weekend. The party says it is planning a major appeal for volunteers to host fundraisers, make calls and canvass communities. The party’s stated goal is to reach at least 15,000 Mainers by Monday.

Reading list

What can President Hayes tell us 140 years later?

Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes, who was president from 1877 to 1881, would be celebrating his birthday today if more than a century hadn’t passed since he was in office.

Hayes was an underappreciated president, in no small part because of his administration’s place in  restoring order after one of the most divisive eras in American history. Just after the Civil War. Here’s a bit from his biography, which offers Democrats a perhaps scary omen through the lens of this year’s presidential election:

“Although a galaxy of famous Republican speakers, and even Mark Twain, stumped for Hayes, he expected the Democrats to win. When the first returns seemed to confirm this, Hayes went to bed, believing he had lost. But in New York, Republican National Chairman Zachariah Chandler, aware of a loophole, wired leaders to stand firm: “Hayes has 185 votes and is elected.” The popular vote apparently was 4,300,000 for Tilden to 4,036,000 for Hayes. Hayes’s election depended upon contested electoral votes in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. If all the disputed electoral votes went to Hayes, he would win; a single one would elect Tilden.

Months of uncertainty followed. In January 1877 Congress established an Electoral Commission to decide the dispute. The commission, made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, determined all the contests in favor of Hayes by eight to seven. The final electoral vote: 185 to 184.”

— Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.