AUGUSTA –– Lawmakers have been unable to break an impasse over the state’s next two-year budget and three competing tax reform plans.

Contentious debates over welfare, gun regulations and labor laws have been pushed back to the final days of the legislative session.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn June 17, and funding for state government ends June 30.

In other words, time is running out for lawmakers to complete their work, and some of the most labor-intensive issues are still unresolved.

As of late last week, roughly 40 percent of the 1,432 bills introduced thus far this session have either been rejected, signed into law or are awaiting action by Gov. Paul LePage, according to statistics from the House of Representatives Clerk’s Office. Action on some of the more disputed proposals has been stalled, in part, by the lack of progress in budget negotiations, with talks bogging down over three plans from LePage and the two political parties that would significantly alter the state’s tax code while cutting income taxes for Mainers.

On Friday, lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget committee recessed without a deal on taxes or the budget, breaking their own self-imposed deadline of completing work on both before Memorial Day.


Later in the day, LePage and Republican leaders in the Legislature issued a joint statement insisting that tax reform will be in the budget.

But the lead Democrat on the budget negotiating committee was not optimistic about an agreement.

“We’re really up against the wall,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. “We have to get something out next week. At this point, we have to figure out what’s going to happen around taxes.”

The deadlock and the shrinking time frame to complete a deal within the state budget has spurred speculation that the Legislature will either jettison tax initiatives or enact an incremental change to the tax code. Neither outcome will likely satisfy LePage, who has made overhauling the tax code his signature policy initiative in the first year of his second term.

LePage proposed a $6.57 billion spending plan Jan. 9, including massive changes to the tax system. Republicans, who control the Senate, have rejected many elements of the governor’s plan and released their own proposal 11 days ago. Democrats proposed their own plan in April. While the three proposals appeared to brighten the prospects of an agreement, lawmakers have been unable to resolve key differences, primarily which Maine income earners will receive the most benefit from an income tax cut and which other taxes should be raised or added to pay for the reduction.

Republicans on the budget committee are still hopeful that an accord is attainable. Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, a member of the budget committee, said there’s a sweet spot among the three plans – lawmakers just need to find it.


“Something will get done,” he said.

Republicans are under pressure to do so. The governor has not publicly responded to the Republican counterproposal, but LePage has said that he plans to campaign against Republicans and Democrats if they don’t pass meaningful reform. Last week, the administration appeared to prepare the offensive.

“Again it comes down to courage,” Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, told WVOM radio hosts Ric Tyler and George Hale. “And it seems like the governor is the only one with a backbone here and has put forward a plan that will benefit the majority.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are signaling that the clock is running out. Rotundo said the Republican proposal isn’t a reform plan, simply a tax cut that’s slanted toward higher-income earners. Although Democrats and the governor agree on some reform initiatives, the two sides don’t appear to be negotiating.

Rotundo said that although there are other pieces of the budget that are unsettled, she believed the budget committee could reach an agreement in a few days.

With the logjam of other bills building, a status quo budget that doesn’t incorporate tax reform may ultimately prove appealing to lawmakers.


Traditionally, the budget is enacted at the close of the legislative session. It’s a tricky exercise, often needing the backing of Republicans and Democrats to achieve the two-thirds support needed to pass as an emergency measure or to override a veto by the governor. For that reason, pitched floored debates on partisan or contentious non-budget issues are often held until after the budget is enacted to avoid hurt feelings or stoking grudges.

The budget impasse has delayed many votes on high-profile initiatives, including welfare restrictions, raising the minimum wage and a proposal to allow Mainers to carry concealed handguns without a permit.

A bipartisan budget is very much needed this year. In addition to Republican control of the Senate and Democratic control of the House, there’s a strong likelihood that LePage will not be satisfied with the budget that lawmakers develop, even if it includes a tax overhaul. The governor has issued more than 200 vetoes since taking office in 2011.

With over 800 bills left to deal with, lawmakers are bracing for long nights and the possibility of extending the session into late June.


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