That $6.1 billion, two-year budget legislators passed last week wasn’t exactly what any of them wanted, but they sent it to the governor. It definitely wasn’t what the governor wanted, but he signed it. Was it what the people of Maine, who sent all these folks to Augusta to run state government, wanted?

There remains some confusion about just what voters had in mind last November when they chose Republican Paul LePage as governor and elected Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

The governor and some Republicans are convinced that the election results amounted to a mandate to overhaul state government and reconfigure its priorities, with no quarter given to potential opponents. Others, including, it appears, two-thirds of the state’s lawmakers, believe the voters were demanding a more bipartisan and realistic approach to dealing with the state’s problems.

The budget, although incorporating some elements of the former, was much more a manifestation of the latter as Republicans and Democrats hammered out compromise after compromise en route to settling on a plan that cuts taxes by more than $150 million while reducing the cost to taxpayers of state employee pensions and shrinking the state’s welfare system.

TAX CUT CUT

The compromises didn’t please LePage, who had submitted a budget proposal at the start of this year’s legislative session that asked for tax cuts totaling nearly $203 million and sought far more drastic changes in welfare spending.

The governor issued a restrained but polite official statement complimenting the Legislature on “some of the work” and the “thoughtful debates” that went into its budget deliberations but complained to a reporter that lawmakers had done only “half the job”

“They did cut taxes and they fixed the pension,” LePage told Mal Leary of the Capitol News Service. “But they did not do their job in welfare. They really fell short, they significantly fell short.”

Those comments raise the question: If he’s that unhappy with the budget the Legislature adopted, why did he sign it?

Probably because he knew a veto would have been a waste of time. The budget was adopted unanimously by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee and passed resoundingly with two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, suggesting that both houses could have mustered two-thirds votes to override a veto.

What’s curious is that the governor chose to blast lawmakers for failing to give him everything he wanted, rather than singing their praises for pulling off a feat of bipartisan statesmanship that many saw as unlikely if not impossible earlier in the session.

Are we dealing with a governor who simply can’t bring himself to compromise — who sees consensus as failure?

Republican legislators were thrilled with the budget, which Senate Majority Leader Jonathan Courtney called a “major step in moving Maine forward” and Senate President Kevin Raye called “transformative for Maine.” Democrats were less thrilled but understandably proud of their success in fighting off proposals they saw as unacceptable reductions to programs they consider essential to protecting the state’s less fortunate residents.

NO COMPROMISE PERFECT

“Democrats strongly opposed the governor’s original budget, but we worked vigorously with Republicans to find a compromise we could support,” said House Minority Leader Emily Cain. “We understand no compromise is perfect.”

She’s right. No compromise is perfect. And problems that took decades to develop – out-of-control government spending, excessive tax rates, business-squelching regulation – cannot be solved overnight, or even in one budget cycle.

The governor’s complaints aside, the state of Maine has done something here that few states have been able to do – that certainly the United States Congress has been unable to do.

Legislators representing the two major political parties, driven by conflicting ideologies and disparate philosophies of government – and accountable to voters of wildly differing priorities and mindsets – took on the formidable challenge of moving government in a new direction while preserving commitments to compassion and generosity of spirit that most Mainers believe are fundamental underpinnings of the state’s identity and sense of responsibility to all of its citizens.

Amazingly – some might say miraculously – the Legislature accomplished that feat with a minimum of rancor and within the limits of what most members view as their obligations to their constituents and themselves.

The governor may not be happy with the result, and his dissatisfaction undoubtedly reflects the sentiments of some voters. But we’re guessing that most Mainers appreciate their legislators’ efforts and are proud of what they accomplished.