By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
Last year, not long after he was sworn into office, Governor LePage said during an event at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston that when he was a youngster at Halloween time, he use to hide between apartment buildings in the Lincoln Street area and would jump younger kids and steal their Halloween candy. He thought he was being comical when he said it to a large audience.
One gentleman yelled out to him and said, “Don’t steal our candy, governor!” The governor replied, “There is nothing left to steal.”
Well, from my readings of late, it looks like he is lurking to find ways to steal some form of revenue sharing from the state to municipalities. In his job-creation forums, the governor has suggested that municipalities with strict regulations on business could see less state revenue sharing. He has said that his administration would submit legislation in the next session of the legislature that would reduce state revenue sharing to cities and towns with regulations stricter than the state’s.
This is most controversial, and as a former mayor of Waterville, Governor LePage should know that—if not, he must have been operating on “Cloud 9” as mayor. Kate Dufour is the legislative advocate for the Maine Municipal Association, of which the Cities of Lewiston and Auburn are members. She wrote in a Bangor Daily News column that the “total state revenue sources (including education subsidy, revenue-sharing and homestead exemption reimbursement) were down more dramatically, falling 8 percent. As expected, one of the biggest hits to municipalities was the 21 percent decrease in state-revenue sharing funding between 2009 ($116 million) and 2010 ($92 million).”
The revenue-sharing law requires that 5% of state sales and income taxes go to municipal revenue sharing. For Lewiston the last two years, the state has “raided” this amount. In Lewiston’s case, they have kept $1.5 million and then $2 million of the amount we should have received and used it to balance their budget.
Guess what, folks? There are only a few ways to make up such revenue shortages: increase property taxes, lay off employees, cut services or a combination of the three. Just this past week, we had the public works director and two of his staff members approach the city council and tell us how the cutback in employees who have been laid off already (adding to unemployment figures) will result in reduced services by taking significantly longer in plowing our streets.
So when your streets aren’t cleared for you to go to work or for emergency services to reach you, call the governor. He has already threatened further cutback in revenue to municipalities if they don’t ease regulations that protect you. Who knows best what regulations work best for communities than communities themselves? One size does not fit all.
Last Thursday, Governor LePage held a jobs forum at Central Community College, where members of the business community were invited. That is to be commended; however, excluded were the following: myself as mayor of Lewiston, Jonathan LaBonté, who is mayor-elect for the City of Auburn, city managers, etc. Mayor Richard Gleason was invited, but as a businessperson, since he owns the Gleason Radio stations in Androscoggin and Oxford Counties. Nor were the two mayoral finalists for the City of Lewiston invited to the forum.
I find it strange that the governor would talk about developing a program of business-friendly communities that would create incentives for cities and towns to keep regulations in line with the state and not invite community government leaders to the forum. Apparently, the governor said that cities and towns that would ease their regulations to match the state’s regulations would be listed as business friendly and promoted by the state.
I also find it strange that this same governor, who has placed a sign at the entrance to the state which reads “Open for Business,” recently took a shot at businesses hoping to open casinos here in Lewiston, Biddeford and Washington County. He said the state couldn’t sustain a total of five casinos.
Strangely enough, he would never say that the state had too many Mardens, Home Depots or Lowes. It matters not what types of businesses they are; they are all businesses.
Mayor-elect LaBonté was upset for being shunned by not being invited to the governor’s jobs forum, as the two Lewiston finalists for the runoff election for mayor of Lewiston should have been. I was less so, as I am leaving office on January 3. But common courtesy from the governor should have provided such an invitation—most especially where he talked about municipalities working with him at the state level.
I would not have been able to attend since at the same time I was receiving an award from the Maine Council of Churches for “Faith in Action over a 40-plus years of public service.” I would definitely have asked the City Administrator Ed Barrett to attend in my stead. Unfortunately, municipal officials were locked out, as were the media from certain sections of it, as were local legislators. How sad!
Doesn’t the governor understand that we are the closest to our business community and we do all that we can to be of service to them?
I still have to wonder about what that man said: “Don’t steal our candy, governor!” Well, I know that the governor certainly did in this last fiscal year. As a true leader, the governor should not steal any more of our municipal “candy;” however, I won’t hold my breath. He should first get his house in order in Augusta before attacking municipalities.
In Lewiston, we already are business friendly, and I would say the same for Auburn. And there is the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, to which municipalities and the business communities are members—we are business friendly. Just stay away from our “candy,” governor!
Hey, you never thought I could write so short a column. Well, the true reason is that I am writing this on Monday evening while watching the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins on TV. My wife, son and I just got back from Montreal. Over the weekend we saw a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game between the Drummondville Voltigeurs against the Halifax Moose on Friday evening in Drummondville.
On Saturday, we saw the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers in Montreal, and on Sunday evening we saw the new Boisbriand Armada beat the Drummondville Voltigeurs. It was a great hockey weekend and great to see the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League again and, of course, the hockey shrine of Montreal.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.GilbertMayor@aol.com.