ME nonemergency functions shut down in budget standoff

Jon Howard
July 3, 2017

A budget agreement is within reach, but only if the ultimatums and threats from LePage and House Republican leaders are replaced with a commitment to serve ME people by compromising on a budget so state government can get back to business.

Anxious that Maine Gov. Paul LePage will cause a state government shutdown Saturday, a class of residents who depend on public-assistance programs have asked a federal judge to intervene in the budget-negotiating impasse.

LePage told reporters he would not support any two-year budget plan that includes new taxes.

House Speaker Sara Gideon said she and fellow Democrats will continue to seek common ground with their Republicans colleagues in the House, even if the Governor won't join in their discussions. "We did our job in the face of tremendous pressure".

New Jersey legislators also went home Saturday afternoon without passing a budget, leaving the state government shut down.

The failure to reach budget deals ahead of the beginning of the new fiscal year means state parks and beaches will be closed during one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year. The budget that was passed Friday was far from ideal, but that is what happens when people with very different perspectives and priorities negotiate an agreement.

The flurry of 11th-hour negotiating reflects the underlying revenue weakness that has broadly dogged states in the last two years and inflamed debates over how to spend the limited resources, according budget experts.

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Republicans and Democrats in ME have scrapped over the budget for weeks, with much of the discord involving funding for education. "I will not tax them anymore and in my budget overall taxes were decreased", LePage said in a statement announcing the shutdown. In the days leading up to the shutdown, the governor threatened to wait the full ten days to respond to the budget afforded to him in the state constitution if he disagreed with the budget, ensuring a shutdown. Roger Katz, a Republican, laid out the stakes. Fredette said, under questioning from committee members, that it is subject to negotiation.

Without a plan in place by the end of Friday, state government will shut down.

On Thursday, Mr. LePage blasted a prior proposal that came from Senate Republicans, upset with one type of tax rising without another decreasing.

The Governor argued that any harm caused by a shutdown in the short term is preferable to the long-term damage ME would suffer from higher taxes.

On Saturday, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, of Newport, outlined almost two dozen changes his members, and the governor, want. "Once a budget hits his desk, he may have a comment".

Early in the day Thursday lawmakers voted to extend the legislative session for five more days to give themselves more time to hash out a budget deal. "This is not to make a point, this is to live up to what I said I would do", LePage said.

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