As Government Shutdown Looms, Maine Governor Refuses to Stop It

by | June 30, 2017

By Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Gov. Paul LePage said Friday that he won't sign a state budget package endorsed Thursday night by a special panel, ensuring a partial shutdown of state government at midnight.

The Republican governor's opposition to the budget deal would force a shutdown that could stretch 10 days if LePage holds the bill for the full time the Constitution allows before he must act on it.

A budget would go to him tonight if the Legislature can muster two-thirds votes in both chambers, but even that was a big "if" on Friday.

LePage hosted House Republicans for a morning meeting where he reportedly implored them to oppose the budget deal negotiated by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.

LePage told reporters his major objections were the overall monetary total for the budget package -- around $7.1 billion -- and that it proposes raising the state's lodging tax from 9 percent to 10.5 percent without income tax cuts. However, the budget package currently under consideration contains an income tax cut of 3 percent because it eliminates the surtax on income above $200,000 per year for education which was approved by voters last year.

Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said during a hastily organized news conference after the governor's comments that he will personally introduce a bill to eliminate the proposed lodging tax increase if that would spur LePage and Republicans to support the budget bill.

"If the governor has objections to the lodging tax, that's fine," Jackson said. "I will personally sponsor any bill he puts in that eliminates the increase in the lodging tax."

LePage said "on June 30" -- the deadline for Maine's next fiscal year -- "they're trying to put a gun to the governor's head," but it won't work.

"This budget they have has no prayer, and if they're hell-bent on bringing this budget down, we will shut down at midnight tonight and we will talk to them in 10 days," LePage said.

The comments came hours before the House and Senate were due to vote on the compromise spending plan.

The Republican majority in the Senate pitched it in dire circumstances Friday, with Thibodeau saying it's "incredibly important to make sure our members ... have the ability to vote on a document before our state government grinds to a close."

Legislative Democrats are likely to mostly support Senate Republicans in their budget push, but the more LePage-aligned House Republicans have enough votes to block the budget's passage there.

Many members hadn't seen the full budget proposal before noon Friday, with Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, a conservative Appropriations Committee member, saying, "I can't vote on something I haven't read."

Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, a moderate who represents many state workers, said he'll vote for the budget, calling it "important for us to move forward with a reasonable approach to closing this budget deal."

But when asked how many members of his caucus would vote for it before LePage spoke, Pouliot demurred -- sort of.

"I don't know," Pouliot said. "It's not looking good."

(c)2017 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)