- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2011

If Maine Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t wish to display a mural depicting the state’s labor history, then the U.S. Department of Labor wants back the federal money used to create it.

The department said Monday that Mr. LePage violated the terms of a federal grant that paid for 63 percent of the mural’s $60,000 cost when he removed the art work from state offices last month.

“Alternatively, the state could again display the mural in its headquarters or in another state employment security building,” the letter said.

The request for reimbursement of 63 percent of the work’s current fair-market value came in a letter to state labor officials from Gay Gilbert, administrator of the U.S. Labor Department’s office of unemployment insurance. The letter was obtained by the Associated Press.

The Gilbert letter is the latest twist in a growing national dispute over Mr. LePage’s decision to remove from the state Labor Department headquarters the 36-foot mural that Mr. LePage said was biased toward organized labor.

The mural, in place since 2008, depicts scenes that include a paper mill strike in the town of Jay, a strike at a shoe plant in Lewiston, women shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works, and former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, a native of Maine.

Adam Fisher, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Labor, said he did not have any immediate comment on the letter. LePage spokesman Adrienne Bennett did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the demand for repayment of federal funds.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has not commented publicly on the mural dispute. Her spokesman, Carl Fillicio, said she “has monitored the situation and asked staff to look into it.”

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