All eyes will be on Republican legislators this week when they return to Augusta to deal with Gov. LePage’s veto of the state budget.
Will they stick with their leadership and support the bipartisan deal that was struck after tough negotiations? Or will they stick with their governor, sustain the veto and send state government into an almost certain shutdown?
It should be an easy one to answer. Most Republicans in the House and Senate supported the budget, which had the unanimous endorsement of the Appropriations Committee. Nothing has changed in the past nine days to get them to reverse themselves and vote with the governor.
But Republican lawmakers have not once overridden a gubernatorial veto this year, even though they’ve had multiple opportunities.
Over and over, Republicans have voted one way on enacting bills and another on overriding vetoes. LePage has encouraged them to do so again, promising that it would reopen negotiations, putting him in a strong position to get a better deal.
The Republicans have stuck with the governor all year, but there are signs that they may be ready to change. The House voted early Thursday morning to override a veto of an omnibus energy bill, which was crafted with input from Democrats and Republicans including the governor’s staff. LePage vetoed the bill — which would, among other things, use the state’s purchasing power to stimulate gas pipeline development — because it did not meet 100 percent of his priorities. Now it will be up to Senate Republicans to decide if they will continue to support the bipartisan bill and let it become law.
Now the governor says he doesn’t like the budget. He can join the club. No one likes it unless they compare it to the plan he proposed in January.
Liberals don’t like voting for a budget that takes away health care coverage from the working poor while cutting income tax rates for the most well-off. Conservatives don’t like voting for a budget that raises additional revenue through a temporary increase in the sales tax.
But leadership from both parties have agreed that a state shutdown would be a disaster for the summer tourism economy and would unnecessarily hurt state workers and people who rely on state services.
Now it will be up to rank-and-file Republicans to decide whether they want to govern or throw the state into chaos by voting for a shutdown. It’s an important vote, and everyone will be watching.