AUGUSTA – Maine is facing serious financial challenges. As we look to the rest of the nation, we see that our New England neighbors have found a path out of the down economy, yet Maine’s economy is lagging.

Maine is also facing a serious budget crisis. In the coming months, lawmakers in Augusta have the daunting task of filling a two-year, $881 million budget gap.  

We’ve already seen Gov. LePage’s solution, and it’s a nonstarter. He’s proposed a budget that will squeeze middle-class families and damage our economy. It shifts more than $400 million in costs to cities and towns, forcing them to cut services and raise property taxes. Already, municipalities across Maine are lining up in opposition to a plan that is nothing short of a property tax hike on all Maine people.

Such a harmful and unfair proposal itself should be enough incentive for Democratic and Republican lawmakers to come to the table and put together a budget that puts Maine families first.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Rather than opening up budget negotiations in good faith, House Minority Leader Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, is defending Gov. LePage’s budget. This is not a surprise. But what is surprising is that Rep. Fredette has also talked about “shutting down” state government. Then on Friday, Gov. LePage told a radio host that he’ll veto all legislative bills until he gets what he wants.

Such threats serve as a clear reminder to voters of why they elected Democrats to be in charge.

The voters made it clear on Election Day: They want leaders who will put Maine people first, not lawmakers who are unwilling to come to the table even before negotiations begin.

 Though Fredette and some of his colleagues may want to derail talks before they begin, we were elected to lead and to solve problems, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

 Any threat of shutting down state government services should not be taken lightly. A state shutdown puts jobs at risk, it puts our economy at risk, it jeopardizes our bond rating and it sends fear rippling through our communities and families that depend on state dollars for our schools, our public safety and our public health. 

In 1991, the last time state services were shut down, thousands of jobs and paychecks were held hostage to a nasty political fight, sending a ripple effect throughout our communities.

A threat of shutting down state government is not an option — not an opening salvo to negotiate a budget for the state of Maine. So if the Republican House leader was looking for our attention, he got it.

And he should have yours, too, because his threat to shut down state government in defense of a budget that will shock our economy and raise property taxes on all families demonstrates just how misguided his priorities are.

 After knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors last summer and fall, we heard loud and clear from Maine people that they want results, they want an economy that works for all Maine families — not just the ultra-wealthy and big corporations — and they want a Legislature that will put Maine people before partisan politics and gridlock.

 Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, it shouldn’t be hard to meet those demands, which is why it’s essential that we work together to create a budget that benefits everyone.

Gov. LePage has already made it clear where he stands on the issue — by proposing a budget that hikes property taxes for all Maine property owners.

Sure, there will be tough choices. Yes, it will take political courage, but together we can draft a budget that grows our economy and works for Maine.

 Already this session, Democrats and Republicans have proven we can work together, even when we have strong differences. We overwhelmingly passed a supplemental budget in the Maine Senate and House after extensive negotiations. It’s time for us to rise to the occasion again and do what is best for all Maine people.

 During the next few months, we will have a vigorous debate about how to resolve our budget deficit. We ask Republicans, Democrats and independents to keep an open mind and steer clear of threatening to shut down the state.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, is president of the Maine Senate, and Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is speaker of the Maine House.

- Special to the Press Herald