June 13, 2013

Bill Nemitz: First the budget vote, then the other shoe drops

Attention, all Augusta watchers: With climactic votes looming this week on Maine’s proposed $6.3 billion biennial budget, I hereby declare a Flip-Flop Alert.   

And what might that be?   

Simple. It’s a message to voters far and wide to be on the lookout for Republican lawmakers who vote for the budget and, after Gov. Paul LePage vetoes it, do a 180 and vote to uphold the veto.   

(For further reference, see: The Kerry Kiss of Death, in memory of John Kerry’s legendary comment during the 2004 presidential campaign about a supplemental military appropriation: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion ... before I voted against it.”)   

To be sure, there’s already been a lot of flip-flopping going on at the State House this spring. At least twice in recent days, in fact, scores of Republicans have voted to sustain LePage vetoes of bills that initially passed with no legislative opposition whatsoever – one prohibited smoking on Maine’s public college campuses, the other dealt with developmentally disabled Mainers.   

But as the clock winds down on this tempestuous session, the stakes are now decidedly higher.   

Two-thirds of the Legislature must pass a budget and, by the same majority, override a veto that LePage wasted no time promising Friday. Otherwise, state government will shut down come July 1 and Republicans who voted for the budget only to cave to the Big Guy’s pressure will find themselves stammering, Kerry-like, to the angry folks back home, “I actually did vote for the budget ... before I voted against it.”   

So what’s it going to be, Republican lawmakers?   

Assuming the spending package unanimously endorsed just after dawn Friday by the bleary-eyed Appropriations Committee gets passed by the full Legislature, will LePage’s veto be nothing more than the latest in a parade of gubernatorial hissy fits?   

Or will just enough of you flip-flop and throw the State House into a crisis it hasn’t seen for more than 20 years?   

Put another way, to whom do you want to be hitched in the next election cycle – a bipartisan Legislature that got something done when it truly counted, or a governor who brought all of Augusta to a grinding halt and is damn proud of it?   

Sitting in his office Friday, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he expects most of his colleagues will take a position and stick with it.   

“I think there’s a natural inclination for people in the same party to want to be supportive of the governor,” said the ever-tactful Katz (who hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours). But as the Legislature now turns to the big-ticket items that need supermajorities to get past the Guv (the budget, Medicaid expansion), Katz added, “My guess is that when people decide to push the button on a vote, they’re more likely to say, ‘I’m pushing that button now – and again.’”   

(Continued on page 2)

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