AUGUSTA — Legislative leaders said Monday they intend to take a vote on the state’s next two-year budget this week, but they also made it clear they haven’t bridged the divide between Republicans and Democrats over public education funding.

Under the Maine Constitution, state government will shut down if the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage haven’t passed and signed a budget by Friday. The budget will likely be just over $7 billion.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said House Democrats and Senate Republicans were still about $25 million apart on how much to increase public school funding and were also still in disagreement over how to pay for it. Republicans want to repeal a 3 percent surcharge on household and small-business income over $200,000 that was added to the state’s tax code by voters last November. The surcharge was meant to help the state fund 55 percent of public school costs, also a voter mandate from 2003 that has never been reached by the Legislature.

Gideon said she and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, met with Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Saturday and again on Monday. Gideon said the meetings were polite and cordial, but she didn’t sense LePage was backing away from any of his earlier demands.

“We are trying to engage in conversations with anyone who can help us close this budget,” Gideon said, noting that Republicans in the House minority were insisting that LePage had to sign off on any deal before they would back it.

LePage leaves for an overnight trip Tuesday to Washington, D.C., where he is expected to meet with President Trump and others on energy issues.

Jackson said he believed LePage was closer to Democrats than their Republican colleagues when it came to the overall amount of any education funding increase and that he felt the conversations, including some weekend text messages between himself and LePage, were helpful toward moving people closer to a deal the governor would support.

LePage has said he would veto any budget that didn’t repeal the surcharge or that spent more than $7 billion over the next two years. It takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Legislature to override a veto.

“I can’t swear on the Bible or anything like that, but I think right now with the parameters the governor has given us we have come forward and responded to that, and I think that if we could get the votes in the House and Senate I think the governor would sign it,” Jackson said.

LePage’s original budget proposal presented to the Legislature more than six months ago kept the 3 percent surcharge in place but also dramatically lowered Maine’s top income tax rate, effectively eliminating the surcharge while moving the state to a flat income tax rate of 5.75 percent by 2020. LePage funded the income tax cut by expanding Maine’s general sales tax to a broader range of goods and services while slightly increasing the sales tax on hotel lodging in an effort to push more of the costs of government onto out-of-state visitors and tourists.

It was unclear and Jackson didn’t say if part of what was now on the table included some of LePage sales tax ideas.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said no matter where the Legislature landed on the budget, public schools were going to see a record increase in funding.

Thibodeau also said his caucus was largely opposed to any increases in income, sales or property taxes in order to increase funding for public schools.

Both Gideon and Thibodeau, who control what comes to their respective chambers for a vote, said they expected there would be votes on a budget bill later this week.

If state government shuts downs, it will be up to LePage to determine which state workers remain on duty to provide essential services, such as public safety and prison staffing. Monday was the deadline for state agencies to submit proposals to the governor’s office for identifying essential workers in their departments.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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