- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine Gov. Paul LePage has demanded that the House chairman of the taxation committee step down from the post for accepting $9,000 to serve as a consultant on a referendum.

Democratic Rep. Ryan Tipping was paid last fall by Citizens who Support Maine’s Public Schools, which successfully pushed a 3 percent surtax on the portion of income filed on tax returns that exceed $200,000. The tax helps fund public schools.

LePage opposes the surtax. And Tipping, as chairman of the committee, will help decide whether LePage’s tax reforms happen.

LePage told WVOM-FM on Tuesday that some people call such activity “business as usual” but he calls it the “utmost corruption.” The governor said Tipping should resign, while the Maine GOP said he should be reassigned to a new committee.

Tipping said he sought guidance from the Maine Ethics Commission to make sure accepting the consulting role was OK.

LePage’s demands come as he continues to bash the surtax as driving professionals like dentists out of Maine. In his two-year budget proposal, LePage wants lawmakers to delay the surtax for a year and then essentially replace it with a flat income tax with an eventual 5.75 percent rate.

Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, said he spoke to Tipping informally, suggesting that he could accept the consulting role as long as the group didn’t offer him the job to influence him as a legislator.

Wayne also said it’s unlikely Tipping’s past work for the referendum would prevent him from voting on taxation or education funding legislation.

Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon defended Tipping, saying many lawmakers have jobs at businesses or nonprofits that could be impacted by legislation.

But Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine GOP, said legislators shouldn’t be “taking $9,000 from a PAC to serve one side of a tax issue and then jumping over to chair the taxation committee” and work on the same issue.

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