June 21, 2013

LePage seeks new budget deal

He asks conservatives to reject the bipartisan budget and endorse a 60-day temporary spending plan to buy more time.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA – Flanked by about 60 conservative activists, Gov. Paul LePage called on lawmakers Thursday to reject a bipartisan compromise on the state's $6.3 billion two-year budget.

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a rally on Thursday June 20, 2013 in the Hallo of Flags at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a rally on Thursday June 20, 2013 in the Hallo of Flags at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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The governor, who reiterated his intent to veto the budget the Legislature passed last week, proposed a 60-day resolution to allow his administration and legislative leaders to broker a new deal.

LePage blasted the budget crafted by Republican and Democratic leaders as laden with favors to special interests and unnecessary tax increases. His comments drew enthusiastic cheers from the core group of supporters that helped elect him in 2010.

"The only special interest that is not represented here in Augusta is you, the Maine taxpayer," LePage said.

Thursday's event, designed to build pressure on Republicans to reject the budget, was held in the State House Hall of Flags several hours after the Legislature recessed until Wednesday.

The governor's speech was quickly rebutted by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, the assistant majority leader, who said LePage's initial budget proposal contained several tax increases and a massive shift of the tax burden to property owners.

Jackson said it is premature to discuss a 60-day resolution to avoid a government shutdown because lawmakers have the votes to override the governor's imminent veto.

"I think Republicans understand what's at stake here," said Jackson. "A shutdown is harmful to the state, state workers and businesses."

The Legislature must enact a balanced budget by June 30 to avoid a suspension of state services. LePage's proposed 60-day resolution would buy him time to avoid a shutdown while negotiating with lawmakers.

But Attorney General Janet Mills said the Legislature, by law, cannot pass a "continuing resolution" in lieu of a balanced two-year budget.

In a letter to legislative leaders Wednesday, Mills said the Maine Constitution and statutes "neither authorize or envision a continuing resolution or any similar mechanism."

Unlike the federal Constitution, Mills wrote, the Maine Constitution requires a balanced budget.

"Any effort to continue the budget that expires on July 1 would result in a budget that is out of balance, given the major differences between the expenditures of the current budget and those of the budget recently passed by the Legislature and sent to the governor for his signature," wrote Mills, a Democrat.

The last government shutdown happened in 1991, with the same political dynamic -- a Republican governor and a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The prospect of a shutdown has loomed over this legislative session, although lawmakers appear closer to passing a budget than they were in 1991.

Democratic leaders have said LePage is spoiling for a shutdown and dismissed the claim he made Friday that lawmakers have refused to negotiate with him.

"Every time we meet with him, it's been his way or the highway," Jackson said.

LePage said the resistance to negotiate comes from the Legislature, not him.

"We've been thinking of ways that we can improve the budget, but we can't improve it alone from my office," LePage said. "I need the legislative leadership to sit down around our table and talk about the budget."

LePage said the budget passed by the Legislature would hurt ordinary Mainers. He said Democratic and Republican lawmakers are responsible for the flawed deal.

The activists at Thursday's event cheered him on. One yelled "cowards!" when LePage criticized fellow Republicans.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said Wednesday that he believes the budget compromise will withstand pressure from the governor to reject it.

(Continued on page 2)

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