– NEWCASTLE – In an opinion column published May 19 in the Bangor Daily News, Angus King wrote, “If I am elected to the Senate, I will work with both sides of the aisle as I did as an independent governor I forged compromises … when strong ideological resistance in both parties could have easily created a stalemate.”

If past performance is any indicator, we can expect exactly the opposite.

In 1997, then-Gov. King took the audacious and unprecedented step of enacting a state biennial budget that passed the Democratic-controlled Legislature by only a slim party-line vote and intentionally shut out any Republican input.

It was a first for this state and a new low in partisan politics.

King was strongly in favor of the Democrats’ proposed biennial budget that year. Republicans were not, for a very good reason.

The Democrats’ plan was an over-the-top cavalcade of new spending.

It grew the General Fund by 20 percent — a whopping $598 million — the largest budget increase in Maine history.

It shifted General Fund expenses to the Highway Fund, meaning we had less money for roads and bridges.

It increased the hospital “sick tax,” translating to higher health care costs.

It created 191 new positions in an already bloated state government, and ultimately it assured a huge structural spending gap for the following biennium.

Adding insult to injury, Maine taxpayers were hit with an $800,000 bill to fund this gimmick in special session “bonus” pay to legislators.

In order to pass the controversial Democratic budget without including Republicans, Democratic House Speaker Libby Mitchell, Democratic Senate President Mark Lawrence and “independent” Gov. King worked as a team to devise a process that maneuvered around Maine’s constitutional safeguards.

Traditionally, the state biennial budget, because of its importance and far-reaching effects, is an emergency bill that requires a two-thirds majority vote.

It can then become law immediately after the governor signs it, assuring it can be in place by the beginning of the new fiscal year, which starts July 1. The two-thirds vote also guarantees a bipartisan consensus.

Without a two-thirds vote — a vote that would have to include Republicans — the budget, like other non-emergency bills, would not become law until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. In other words, it would not take effect until sometime in September, months after the start of the fiscal year.

The problem for Angus King and the Democrats was how to have the Democrats’ budget in place on July 1.

The solution was to pass the budget early in the year with a slim partisan majority and then immediately adjourn the regular session. This allowed enough time for the “non-emergency” budget to become law just before the start of the new fiscal year.

To pull off this scheme, they had to claim that all legislative work had been completed in March, which of course it hadn’t, adjourn for the session, and then immediately call the Legislature back into special session to finish all of the work they had just said was complete.

It was a grand charade, a daring partisan power-play and the mother of all budget gimmicks. It worked, but the move was so shameless and insolent that it left a bitter partisan stain that lasted for years.

Angus King and his Democrats were successful in passing a straight party-line biennial budget without a two-thirds majority vote.

King’s explanation for excluding the Republicans was that “Republicans might have shut down state government” if this brazen measure wasn’t taken.

That flimsy excuse rings hollow, however, as all other governors before him had always found a solution to that problem and forged a compromise.

King’s past performance as chief executive of this state shows a profound disrespect for the minority party.

His willingness to participate in and lead a hyper-partisan power play demonstrates vividly that he is not the independent consensus builder he claims to be.

 

State Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle, represents House District 51.