AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage told a television station Wednesday that he preferred a shutdown of state government over the bipartisan $6.3 billion state budget that lawmakers have crafted.
“I think a shutdown is less painful and less damaging than signing a bad budget,” LePage told WCSH-TV during an interview in Damariscotta.
LePage said the proposal endorsed unanimously by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee is a “bad document” and “horrific.”
Lawmakers are preparing to vote on the state’s next two-year spending plan and have it enacted before June 30, the end of the fiscal year. The state Constitution requires a balanced budget to keep state government running.
The budget could come up for a vote Thursday.
LePage’s close political allies are urging Republican lawmakers to stand with the governor and reject a budget that has the approval of legislative leaders in both parties.
Democrats, who have majorities in the House and Senate, hope enough Republicans will vote for the compromise budget to gain two-thirds support, the threshold for overriding a veto.
LePage’s remarks were criticized by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. Both said the governor’s comments were irresponsible but not surprising.
“We’ve seen a pattern of behavior from the governor that, when he doesn’t get what he wants, he threatens and intimidates and issues ultimatums,” Eves said.
Alfond said the governor is sending the wrong message to about 10,000 state workers who could lose paychecks if government is shut down.
“To me, it just showcases how out of touch this governor is with working men and women in the state of Maine,” Alfond said.
“It’s tourism season,” he said. “What kind of message does it send when the governor says he wants to shut down state government rather than supporting a compromise budget? It’s the wrong message to be sending, not only to tourists, but businesses who want to come here.”
LePage has indicated previously that he will veto the budget as proposed. He has also said he will take the full 10 days allowed by law to review the budget.
Eves said the governor should veto the budget as soon as it hits his desk so the Legislature can pass it without him.
“The absurdity of this whole scenario is that if he’s going to veto it, why take the 10 days,” Eves said.
“I’m calling on the governor to veto the bill. If he’s going to do it, he should do it. He should not take 10 days and get us to the cliff of shutdown, which is what he’s begging for.”
During his most recent weekly radio message, LePage promised to veto any budget that includes tax increases.
The budget endorsed by the Appropriations Committee last week contains a temporary sales tax increase, from 5 percent to 5.5 percent, and an increase in the meals-and-lodging tax, from 7 percent to 8 percent. Both would end after two years.
Both tax increases are designed to fill a $400 million shortfall created by the tax cut package that the Legislature passed in 2011.
LePage’s budget, proposed in January, was designed to protect the tax cut. Critics of his plan say it contained a $400 million tax increase because of a two-year suspension of municipal aid and changes to programs designed to provide property-tax relief.
LePage’s budget also contained an income tax increase that would have raised the tax bill of the average Mainer by $39 over the next two years.
The increase was driven by a change in inflation indexing to what’s known as chained consumer price indexing. The subtle but substantive change would have generated more than $8.6 million in income tax collections over the two fiscal years beginning July 1.
The Appropriations Committee rejected the proposal.
It’s unclear if legislative leaders can hold the compromise budget together.
House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said last week that Republicans must answer to their constituents. He also said the budget proposal is likely the best deal either side can expect with a Democratic Legislature and a Republican governor.
Alfond and Eves were asked Wednesday if they are confident the deal will survive. Both noted that leaders from both parties signed off on the compromise when it was reached during the early morning hours Friday.
Eves said the deal is a “gentleman’s handshake,” and that it would be unprecedented for a budget passed unanimously in committee not to receive two-thirds support.
Anything short of that this time would show “a serious lack of leadership,” Eves said.
Alfond was hopeful.
“I think he (LePage) has trapped himself,” he said. “Our job is to work with our Republican colleagues to get two-thirds votes in the Senate and House.”
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: