AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage unveiled his new biennial budget proposal Thursday, and then sat down for an exclusive interview with The Sardine Report. What follows is an unedited transcript of that conversation:
Sardine Report: Governor, thank you for spending a few minutes with us.
Paul LePage: Glad to be here. I know I’ve had my troubles with the media in the past, but I just want to say that The Sardine Report is my favorite source for updates on our fisheries and aquatic exports.
SR: That’s just wonderful. Now, down to business. You said in your address to the legislature that your budget takes a responsible approach to guiding Maine toward prosperity, or some such gibberish that all executives say in this situation. Can you elaborate on that?
PL: What I really want to focus on is the fact that this budget puts Maine people first.
SR: Can you be more specific?
PL: When I say “Maine people,” I mean “people who own businesses.” People who are poor enough to need MaineCare are going to take one on the chin, along with seniors who are getting by on state pensions. It’s not that they don’t matter, it’s just that they don’t matter quite as much as those who gave money to the Republican Governor’s Association.
SR: Your budget address trumpeted a proposed 7% increase in education funding over the next two years (about 3.5% a year). How do you address skeptics who say this is merely a status-quo cost-of-living allowance, and nothing more?
PL: The point is that we didn’t cut education funding, even though it was awfully tempting. Education, along with outpatient mental health services, is one of those government functions that keep people out of jail. In future budgets we’ll be looking at drastic cuts to both. How will our private prisons make money if we don’t send people to jail?
SR: Governor, some of your critics are suggesting that there aren’t any significant changes in this budget, which totals around $5.6 billion, just like the current one. Are we in for another two years of “business as usual” in Augusta?
PL: I resent those accusations. We all know government must change significantly if we’re going to compete. I pored over those figures around the clock for days and days, looking for ways to save the taxpayers’ money.
SR: When you say “around the clock,” do you mean you literally had a clock nearby while you worked on the budget?
PL: I would prefer not to comment on that.
SR: With all due respect, sir, the people of Maine deserve to know why you’re not following through on your 39% mandate. You were going to change the way state government works.
PL: Look, it’s like I said in my speech. I’ve only been in office 37 days. I’m still hiring people. I haven’t really had time to —
SR: Shouldn’t someone with a reasonable expectation of being elected governor spend some significant time going over the state budget before his inauguration?
PL: Kiss my– Hold on… [takes deep breath, counts to ten]. OK, I’ll level with you. I really did take a hard look at the budget. But it turns out it was actually a pretty good budget in the first place. I mean, stuff is working, people are getting paid, and all that. It’s not like we have thousands of protesters chanting outside the capitol. Don’t get me wrong – I wish we could do better. Would I love to dump MaineCare into the Androscoggin River and forget it ever existed? Yeah, but there are all these federal mandates…
SR: This from the man who said he would tell Obama to “go to hell.”
PL: Look, the fact is that now that I’ve had a chance to really look at the whole system from the top, things aren’t as bad as I thought they were. Baldacci did a pretty good job, all things considered. I mean, it’s a lot of work going through the state budget. It’s thousands of pages long. It was a little silly of me to think I could sweep in and launch us toward some kind of Reagan-era wet dream. Especially with the new season of American Idol on, you know?
SR: Well, yes, I’m sure the public will sympathize with you on that one. It’s already been a hectic year for all of us.
PL: You’re damn right it has. I’ve barely had time to deport any illegal immigrants.
SR: Governor LePage, we appreciate your candor and your willingness to spend a few minutes with us during this high-pressure moment so early in your administration.
PL: It was my pleasure. Very cathartic, really. But how come no questions about fishing exports?
SR: Uh… we emailed those to to your spokesman already.
PL: Oh. I can’t wait to see what he says.