LePage stresses income tax, welfare at feisty Portland event

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage pledged to keep pushing to slash Maine's income tax and reform welfare during an occasionally quarrelsome town hall meeting in the state's largest city on Tuesday.

LePage spoke at University of Southern Maine in Portland, a liberal enclave that has sometimes sparked the Republican's wrath. Much of the evening focused on some of LePage's most frequent talking points, including his desires to grow job training programs and diversify energy sources.

But LePage drew the ire of Tuesday's crowd by defending his decision to withhold bond money from Land For Maine's Future, a popular conservation program that voters have repeatedly supported since its creation in the 1980s. One member of the audience called out that LePage was interfering with the will of the people.

Another asked, "If we were wrong about the bond, were we wrong about you, too?" LePage responded with, "Maybe." He also said the program leaves Maine taxpayers on the hook for overvalued land and he considers it "corrupt."

The event ended abruptly during the Land For Maine's Future exchange, which LePage described as "unruly" before he exited the stage. Democratic Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland, who attended the event, said the governor was "hostile" during the event. LePage and the crowd also sparred earlier in the evening about how to handle the state's drug crisis.

LePage's contentious history with Portland includes his repeated criticism of the city during the administration of former Mayor Michael Brennan, with whom LePage clashed.

The state Department of Health and Human Services also heavily criticized Portland after an audit found that a third of the 30 longest stayers at city-run homeless shelters had at least $20,000 in assets in the bank.

LePage congratulated newly elected Mayor Ethan Strimling early in Tuesday's event. The Portland Press Herald (http://bit.ly/1R7Es0C) reported Strimling said earlier that he and LePage have a "decent" relationship.

About 250 people attended Tuesday's event.

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