17 times Gov. LePage blatantly lied at his town hall meetings

17 times Gov. LePage blatantly lied at his town hall meetings

If you’ve been following the media coverage in Maine of Governor LePage’s series of town hall meetings to pitch his state budget proposal, you’ve probably heard about how an angry ex-lawmaker tossed a jar of Vaseline onto a stage, or the time he refused to apologize for claiming that author Stephen King didn’t pay taxes in Maine. If you’re paying particularly close attention, you might even have heard some of the actual details of the governor’s budget plan.

What you haven’t heard from any media source, however, is the plain fact that Governor LePage lies at these meetings, repeatedly and outrageously, about some of the most important issues facing the state.

These lies aren’t simply cases of small misstatements of facts, or of LePage arguing one side of a case and ignoring other evidence and points of view (although that also happens plenty). These are clear, unambiguous statements about important policy issues that are completely at odds with reality and easily proven false.

Here are a few examples from a review of recordings of six of his town hall appearances:



In Belfast, Governor LePage claimed:
“In 2011 we reduced income tax from 8.5 to 7.95 and our income tax revenues went up. So, higher taxes doesn’t mean more revenue.”

In reality:
Governor LePage’s income tax cuts have dramatically decreased income tax revenues by about 11%, including by $176 million in the current budget year.



In Auburn, Governor LePage claimed:
“Everyone wanted to expand Medicaid, we managed not to. Next July first, we’re going from 61% to 59%. Four years ago, when I became your governor, the Medicaid reimbursement in Maine was 68%. It goes down every year 1% to 1.7% a year.”

In reality:
The regular Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for Medicaid was 63.8% in 2011 (although higher at the beginning of the year due to one-time-stimulus funding). It is currently 61.88% and will be increasing to 62.67% in October (not decreasing in July).

LePage’s false information here may be based on the Alexander Report, the document (later found to be plagiarized) that he commissioned in order to boost his arguments against accepting federal health care funds. Ongoing decreases in the FMAP were one of the many false projections made in the report.



In Belfast, Governor LePage claimed:
“We are ranked somewhere around 38th in the nation as to quality of schools. Florida has 2.8 million kids, K-12, 64 superintendents, and is ranked #7 in the country.”

In reality:
While there are a wide range of measures of school quality and student achievement, most show Maine well ahead of Florida, and none show the kind of negative gap LePage describes. Last year, a ranking by U.S. News and World Report found Maine tied with California as first-in-the-nation for top-performing schools.



In Belfast, Governor LePage claimed:
“Average school size in America is 18 students per classroom. State of Maine is less than 11. […] When you add up all the schools and you divide it by the number of kids at the schools, your classrooms are very small.”

In reality:
The latest data from the National Education Association shows the national student-to-teacher ratio is 15.9. Maine’s is 12.1; lower, but not to the degree LePage claims. Classroom size, which LePage refers to, is a different and more difficult measure. There is one report (the Schools and Staffing Survey from the National Center for Education Statistics) where the average national high school classroom size is 17.7, close to the rate he described. By that metric, however, Maine’s average classroom size is 16.1.



In Westbrook, Governor LePage claimed:
“The nine states that don’t have an income tax are far, far more prosperous than the state of Maine.”

In reality:
The vast preponderance of research on the subject shows states without an income tax do the same or worse than states with higher tax rates when it comes to income growth and job creation. One study comparing Maine to those nine states for the period 2001-2010 found Maine outperforming all but two in median household income growth and all but three in average annual unemployment rate.

Five states, including Maine, have enacted large income tax cuts since 2010 and four have since performed below the national average in job growth. Maine fared the worst, seeing jobs increase by just 1.7% since LePage’s last round of tax cuts were enacted, compared to 6.3% for the nation.



In Westbrook, Governor LePage claimed:
“We need to eliminate the income tax. Folks, in closing I will say this: the state of South Carolina does not have an income tax. They’re a very industrious state.”

In reality:
South Carolina has a top income tax rate of 7% (which kicks in for earnings above just $14,400).



In Westbrook, Governor LePage claimed:
“25 years ago, Maine had in the vicinity of 2,500 millionaires in the state of Maine and New Hampshire had about 1,000. Today, Maine has 400 and New Hampshire has about pushing 5,000.” (LePage made similar statements several times at different town halls, sometimes using different numbers.)

In reality:
There are around 27,000 households in Maine with more than $1 million in assets. LePage’s numbers seem closer in scale to those of million-dollar-plus income tax returns, for which IRS statistic are available dating back to 1997. From 1997 to 2012, returns of more than $1 million in Maine have increased 261%, from 307 to 800. Million-dollar-plus returns in New Hampshire have increased 208%, from 683 to 1,420.



In Saco, Governor LePage claimed:
“We lose $12 million a year from people who pick up and leave. It’s been going on for two decades.”

In reality:
Maine has gained more taxpayers and income through migration, going back to at least the early nineties, netting a total of about $1.8 billion in adjusted gross income.

Maine even has had more and higher-income individuals move across the border from New Hampshire than go the other way. From 1993 to 2010, Maine netted 1,361 people who used to file returns in New Hampshire, for an increase in adjusted gross income of more than $164 million.



In Belfast, Governor LePage claimed:
“Americans are the worst savers in the world. I’m banking on it. The French and Japanese are the best savers in the world.”

In reality:
Current OECD net savings rates show that residents of the United States save 4% of disposable household income. That’s below average for developed nations, but well above Japan, which has a rate of 0.6%.



In Machias, Governor LePage  claimed:
“Rather than talk about a minimum wage increase that’s going to help 6,000 Mainers, why don’t we give back the income tax?”

In reality:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of Mainers earning at or below the $7.25 federal minimum wage at 12,000. The number making at or below Maine’s $7.50 minimum wage is likely higher. But even these numbers, double what LePage claims, miss the point. Most people who will be directly affected by a minimum wage increase will be earning somewhat more than the current minimum (but less than the new minimum wage). For an incremental increase to $12 an hour by 2020 (as per the referendum being advanced by Mainers for Fair Wages) the Economic Policy Institute projects that 130,000 Mainers would see mandatory wages increases. The number of higher-wage workers whose incomes would rise proportionately is likely much larger.



In Westbrook, Governor LePage claimed:
“In 2010, when I was elected and when I took office in 2011, 82% of the homes in Maine were heated with oil. Today, it’s 60%.”

In reality:
According to the governor’s energy office, 70% of homes used oil heat in 2010. 64.2% used oil heat in 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available.



In Auburn, LePage claimed:
“Forty years ago now, when Canada went to socialized medicine, the whole concept was that the federal government would pay 90% and the provinces would pay 10%. The premier of Quebec just told me recently that they are now down to fifty-fifty; 50% federal, 50% provincial. Quebec province has 7 million people. Their share of social medicine in Canada is $34 billion a year. So, on seven million people, it’s pushing $70 billion a year. That’s going to happen here.”

In reality:
Federal health care transfers are complicated, but there was never anything close to a 90/10 division proposed or enacted. The Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Health have determined that the average federal share of health care costs forty years ago was around 27%. In 2012, the average federal share was 22.9%. (In Quebec, it was 25%.)

There are 8.18 million people living in Quebec and the provincial government spent 30.1 billion CAD on health care in 2014 (24.7 billion USD), or about 3,660 CAD (3,001 USD) per resident. Total health care spending in Quebec (including federal and private spending) works out to about 4,600 USD per capita. Average health expenditures in the United States in 2013 were $9,255 per capita (more than twice as much) and Maine’s were likely significantly higher, despite a lack of universal coverage and significantly worse health care outcomes than seen in Canada.

Canada doesn’t have socialized medicine. It has a universal, single-payer system similar to Medicare.



In Westbrook, Governor LePage claimed:
“In 20 years [Maine Healthy Partnerships] has reduced [youth smoking] by 11% and we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars. […] What we’re doing is programs that everyone is telling us don’t work.”

In reality:
Youth smoking in Maine has decreased by 48% since the Fund for a Healthy Maine was created (from 24.8% in 2001 to 12.8% in 2013).



In Westbrook, Governor LePage claimed:
“The renewable energy produced in Maine is being sold out of state, and for good reason, because they’re very expensive. For instance, the wind and the solar contracts that are in Maine being sold to  Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island are in the 15-21 cent range.”

In reality:
Recent contracts with Maine wind energy providers selling power to Massachusetts guaranteed a price of eight cents per kilowatt-hour, less than most other sources of electricity and well below the average cost of electricity for Maine.



In Machias, Governor LePage claimed:
“Right now we have the 45th highest corporate tax in America. Out of 50 states, we have the 45th highest. I’m telling you. They’re scraping the barrel when they start looking at Maine, because they can go to New Hampshire and they can go to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island. Vermont is the only state that we’re competitive with.”

In reality:
Maine has the 9th highest (or 41st in LePage’s terms) top corporate tax rate in the country with 8.93% . Connecticut and Rhode Island are tied for 6th with 9%, Vermont and New Hampshire are tied for 12th with 8.5% and Massachusetts is 15th with 8%. Unlike most of those states, however, Maine has a graduated tax, including just a 3.5% rate on the first $25,000 of corporate income.

LePage seems to be referring to a report by the Tax Foundation that takes into account not just tax rates but other factors as well (counting Maine’s several tax brackets as a negative, for instance). Even by this measure, however, all the New England states are assessed similarly and New Hampshire is ranked worse than Maine, at 48th.



In Presque Isle, Governor LePage Claimed:
“Mrs. Obama has tried [improving school lunches] and we’re providing teriffic food for our cattle and our pigs, because kids aren’t eating it. The throwaway in our schools is up twofold, threefold.”

In reality:
Both major studies of the enhanced school lunch programs championed by Michelle Obama have found that students are discarding less food and eating more fruits and vegetables.



In Belfast, Governor LePage claimed:
“Cate Street wasn’t a subsidy. It was a loan.”

In reality:
Investors in Cate Street’s financing scheme will receive roughly $16 million in tax credit subsidies from Maine’s general fund, despite the failure of the mill.


These lies are shocking for their frequency, their boldness, and the fact that they go right to the heart of some of the issues that are most central to LePage’s policy priorities.

It’s perhaps even more shocking that LePage has never been called on his repeated, blatant false statements (which he has made a habit of long before his latest town hall tour). Only on a very rare occasion do journalists follow up on these kinds of lies, and usually it’s only with a note that his figures couldn’t be verified, or that his political opponents dispute his characterizations. Almost never is there the plain statement that the governor has lied.

The sad fact is that the media in Maine isn’t equipped to deal with this kind of pervasive mendacity. Too many journalists either don’t have the time to fact-check LePage’s statements or are so concerned about appearing partisan that they fear telling the plain, obvious, verifiable truth.

There should be a state-wide conversation about the governor’s rampant dishonesty. Significant lies about important issues should be dissected and refuted on television newscasts and in Maine’s newspapers. There should be columns and editorials asking the question of how we have sunk so low in our politics and public discourse that the governor can lie so much with so little accountability. Instead, there’s silence.

It’s time to tell it like it is. Governor LePage is either incredibly, willfully ignorant or deeply, cynically manipulative. He should no longer be given the benefit of the doubt that his office seems to confer. His claims should be approached with deep skepticism.


Photo credit (Gov. LePage at a town hall in Ellsworth): Sue Aubrey. Special thanks to Andi Parkinson for recording several of the town hall events.


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