A day before deadline, lawmakers hold out hope for budget deal

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Leaders in the Maine legislature are hoping to reach agreement Thursday on a new budget, with the deadline for a government shutdown less than 48 hours away.

The four top leaders of the House and Senate were reportedly meeting Wednesday evening, and expected to discuss the latest budget compromise from Senate Republicans. That proposal tried to bridge the gap between Democrats and House Republicans to reach a budget deal.

The proposal would increase school funding by $145 million and  increase the amount of property tax relief in the budget, both prime demands of Democrats. It would also repeal the controversial three percent surtax on higher incomes, which was passed by Maine voters last fall and has been a key target of Republicans. The plan includes an increase in the lodging tax to generate added revenue, which Republicans had previously said they did not want.

There have been no official public responses to the plan yet from either Democrats or House Republicans.  Speaker of the House Sara Gideon said Wednesday she and the Senate President were hoping for a vote on a budget by the special Committee of Conference sometime Thursday morning so that a budget could be voted on by the full House and Senate Friday.

If that budget received  the required two-thirds majority vote, it would then be submitted to Gov. LePage for his signature or his veto before the deadline of midnight on June 30. A two-thirds majority, however, will require significant support from both parties.

If there is no final budget in place by the deadline, there will be a state government shutdown starting July 1.  Gov. LePage on Wednesday sent a notice to state employees, stating  that he has made plans to issue an emergency order, if necessary, to keep critical services running during a shutdown. The memo uses language from the last state shutdown in 1991 to define those services and the state employees who would continue to work.

The Governor’s communications office said Wednesday the primary focus would be law enforcement, maintaining corrections and mental health facilities, and keeping state parks open. There are still many unanswered questions about specific state functions, from courts to highway work, and those should be answered Thursday.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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