- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Republican Gov. Paul LePage will tout improvements to the economy under his watch and focus on his administration’s welfare reform efforts in his third State of the State address before a Democratic-controlled Legislature that frequently clashes with him and is again attempting to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act against his wishes.

LePage will lay out a handful of new policies in his Tuesday speech, including a proposal that has the potential to further strengthen Maine’s economy and create jobs, his office says. His administration is being mum on its details but says it’ll require lawmakers of both major political parties to get on board.

“It needs to be given the opportunity,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Monday. “Democrats and Republicans alike need to make a decision as to if they’re interested in seeing this move forward.”

LePage’s election year speech is expected to touch on Maine’s dropping unemployment rate, which in December fell to the lowest rate in five years at 6.2 percent. The governor’s policies have cut red tape and lowered taxes, making it a more favorable business climate, said Republican Sen. Ron Collins, of Wells.

Democratic leaders on Monday dismissed the idea that the economy has improved under LePage’s administration and called on him to offer real solutions for the struggling and the poor in his Tuesday night speech. Maine has gotten back only a third of the jobs it lost in during the recession, and LePage is merely taking credit for the national economy’s recovery, said Democratic House Leader Seth Berry, of Bowdoinham.

Bennett said LePage’s speech also will touch on Medicaid expansion, an idea he’s remained staunchly opposed to as Democratic leaders try to drum up enough support among GOP lawmakers to override his veto. He’s also expected to discuss ways to encourage families and young people to stay in Maine and what government can do to combat the state’s drug problem, his office said.

But many of LePage’s ideas are certain to face a tough path in the Legislature, where Democrats say the blunt-speaking governor’s policies have divided state residents.

“He’s put his own selfish interests and politics ahead of life-saving health care, ahead of the economy, ahead of our schools, ahead of our teachers … ahead of each and every one of us,” Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson, of Allagash, said. “He’s insulted us. He’s embarrassed us.”

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