AUGUSTA — The Legislature on Thursday enacted a controversial measure that would forestall a $40 million cut in state aid to municipalities.
The proposal, L.D. 1762, now goes to Gov. Paul LePage. The governor indicated at recent event that he may not veto the measure, but he has made his opposition to its funding mechanism clear because it uses money from the state’s rainy day fund — money set aside to cover budget shortfalls or other expenses. LePage has also indicated that he will withhold state bonds for transportation projects and other economic development needs because he believes the bill will damage the state’s credit rating.
The House and Senate took roll call votes on the bill on Tuesday. The House on Thursday voted 120-17 to enact the measure, while the Senate approved it without debate or a roll call vote.
Despite the wide vote margins, the bill has been subject to intense partisan wrangling. Republicans have voiced strong objections to the funding mechanism which includes taking money from the rainy day fund and a second fund that’s designed to use revenue surpluses to pay for income tax cuts.
Nonetheless, many Republicans supported the bill because they did not want to be on the record for opposing funding for municipalities during an election year.
On Tuesday, Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, voted with Democrats, but not before noting that he felt forced to do so. He said his vote was a “surrender” to the politics of the bill. During the same Senate vote, Sen. Richard Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth, and Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, were the only two lawmakers to vote against the bill. Both lawmakers recently announced that they’re not seeking re-election this year.
Democrats counter that a credit downgrade is avoidable because of a provision that automatically backfills the rainy day fund with a revenue surplus, which the state is expected to have at the end of the month. Additionally, Democrats say the bill fulfills the state’s promise to municipalities, which are counting on the funding to avoid painful cuts in services or raising property taxes.
The bill effectively prevents a $40 million cut in aid to municipalities in fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1. However, it doesn’t solve the estimated $60 million budget gap for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @stevemistler