After weeks of argument, new state budget passes first hurdle

Deal reached on budget just hours before deadline

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER)  — Maine legislative leaders announced Thursday night they had reached an agreement on the budget less than 48 hours before the deadline for a government shutdown.

The legislature is expected to vote on the proposed new budget Friday, but the fate of that plan appears uncertain. The special conference committee, appointed to resolve the budget stalemate, voted 5-1 to support a proposal created by Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.

Senate President Thibodeau, hopeful the legislation would get the two-thirds majority on Friday, said he did "not want to see state government grind to a halt" without giving colleagues a chance to vote on a budget.

The budget plan would provide $162 million in new funding for education, and eliminate the 3 percent surtax on higher incomes that was passed by voters last year. Those issues have been the core of months of debate over the new budget, and represent stark differences between Democrats and Republicans.

It includes education reforms, which have been important to Republicans, and also provides pay raises for direct care workers who assist adults with intellectual disabilities and typically work for agencies paid through the state’s MaineCare program.

LIST: State functions that will remain active during potential shutdown

The lone dissenting vote on the plan was from Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, who said he had not seen any of the details of the proposal prior to the meeting and needed to review it with other party members.

"I think we should do better," said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, criticizing how the budget process was dragged out and done outside of committee.

House Republicans have insisted the total budget not exceed $7.05 billion, that it limits increases in education spending to $126 million and include education reforms. Democrats, on the other hand, have pushed for far more spending for education, to replace the estimated $320 million projected to be raised by the 3 percent tax on higher income residents.

Because of those strong feelings on both sides, Thursday night’s vote is by no means a guarantee of passing a new budget in the full legislature, and both Thibodeau and Gideon admitted in the meeting that the package might not pass.

"I think we did the very best we could do to deliver a budget to vote on tomorrow," Speaker Gideon said.

The full legislature needs to pass a budget by a two-thirds majority in both chambers, and that will require a significant number of votes in both parties. If it does not get the two-thirds majority, the budget will fail and, as Gideon stated, the committee and the leaders will need to keep searching for a budget deal, even if state government goes into a shutdown.

► WATCH: 'I will not sign a bad budget': Gov. LePage on potential for a shutdown

Passage of this budget deal does not prevent a shutdown, either. Gov. LePage said again Thursday that if he does not approve of a new budget he will take the 10 days — excluding Sunday — allowed by law before issuing a veto. That would also guarantee a partial state government shutdown.

With a shutdown deadline of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, a passage in both chambers Friday would give LePage less than 24 hours to make a decision before the deadline.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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