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Maine To Begin Shutdown After Gov. LePage Says He Won't Sign Budget Bill

After Maine Gov. Paul LePage delivered an ultimatum to state lawmakers, promising to provoke a government shutdown should the state's legislature hand him a budget that includes a tax increase, it appears the governor intends to keep his word.

LePage told reporters at the state capital that he won't sign anything Friday, ensuring that a shutdown will begin at midnight, because the current budget proposalwhich was endorsed late Thursday by a special panel of lawmakers but has not yet been approved by the state legislature, includes a 1.5% lodging tax increase.

According to the Bangor Daily News, the budget package currently under consideration would raise the lodging tax from 9% to 10.5%. The budget does, however, include a 3% cut to an education surtax on individuals earning more than $200,000. LePage has also taken issue with the size of the $7.1 billion budget.

To be sure, it’s not entirely certain that the budget will even make it to the governor’s desk before the day is over. That’s because LePage has asked the state’s House Republicans to oppose the deal, which was negotiated by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.

LePage has embraced brash rhetoric during the budget fight, accusing lawmakers of “trying to put a gun to the governor’s head."

“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.

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

Gideon, the democratic opposition leader, said lawmakers should focus on ginning up the two-thirds support that a deal would need. The governor can only legally sit on the budget for ten days before either vetoing or signing it. Once it has been vetoed, the legislature could override the governor with a two-thirds majority vote.

“If we do not do that and if the governor then does not do his job by either signing the budget or returning it to us immediately with his veto then we will be damaging the lives of too many people in this state,” she said.

Some Democrats have expressed a desire to work with the governor in eliminating the tax hike at issue in the bill.

“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, though Gideon said she wouldn’t support any changes late in the process.

 

“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.”

Under a shutdown, Maine would have no authority to pay workers, meaning the state’s roughly 12,000 employees will either work or stay home without pay, LePage announced Thursday that state law enforcement, state parks, psychiatric hospitals, prisons and ferries will remain operational, but that was only a partial plan. During the state’s last shutdown, in 1991, 2,000 employees were called into work at the beginning of the shutdown.

The shutdown, though brief, could have a major impact on the state’s economy, according to BDN.

“Workers represented by the Maine State Employees Association will lose wages generating $2.5 million in daily economic impact, according to an analysis from the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy, with $944,000 in Kennebec County alone.”

Uncertainty surrounding whether state workers will be paid next week inspired a wave of protests at the capitol.

Some of those union members were at the State House on Friday, including Kip Mitchell, 53, a Maine Department of Transportation employee who said he’s the only wage earner in a family of four who said “the uncertainty is scary.”

 

Jonathan French, 38, of Hallowell, a civil engineer in the same department, said he had worries besides his job, since his young son gets services through the Maine Department of Education’s Child Development Services program.

 

“We’re citizens, too, so we’re going to be out of work, but we’re also going to experience all the other effects of the shutdown … ,” he said. “So, it’s kind of a double-whammy for us.”

Two other states, Connecticut and Illinois, are struggling to pass budgets on Friday. Connecticut, which has seen its debt downgraded by all three of the major ratings agencies in recent months, is trying to winnow a $5 billion budget deficit that’s driven largely by overly generous benefits to state employees. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed an executive order Friday afternoon to take control of state spending after the legislature was unable to reach a deal on the bienniel budget.

Illinois, which has been operating without a budget for two years, could see its debt rating downgraded to junk territory if it fails to pass a budget. As the situation in Illinois appears increasingly uncertain, its house speaker has said he will ask the credit agencies to defer action based on progress being made toward an accord.

Right. Good luck.