By Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is presenting his $6.8 billion budget to legislators who’ve rejected similar ideas before.

LePage is using his final two-year budget proposal to push for big changes to Maine’s tax structure and school funding formula, cuts to welfare programs and a statewide teacher contract. The governor has said lawmakers lack the courage to tackle such proposals, which include a flat income tax of 5.75 percent by 2020, eliminating the estate tax and making the sales tax apply to more services, like movie tickets.

Lawmakers will start holding hearings new week on the governor’s complex ideas to prepare a budget by a June deadline.

Democratic leaders said Monday they’re concerned about LePage’s call to eliminate 500 state jobs. They also say they want to preserve local control of schools and ensure the tax burden isn’t shifted on property owners.

“We don’t see any white knight coming into Maine and making it all better for our people,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson said.

Republican legislative leaders said they’re open to delving into LePage’s ideas and that it’s too soon to say any are off the table, including the sales tax expansion.

LePage unsuccessfully pushed to raise the sales tax in 2015. He’s again proposing to eliminate the estate tax and lower corporate income tax.

The governor said his proposals address the ballot questions approved by voters in November to raise the minimum wage and create an extra 3 percent tax on the portion of a worker’s income above $200,000 to fund public schools.

The surtax would give Maine one of the nation’s highest tax rates for high earners, with a top rate of 10.15 percent.

The governor wants to delay the surtax for a year and simplify Maine’s tax code to a 2.75 percent bottom rate and a 3.15 percent rate for top earners. The 3 percent surtax would be added to both rates.

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