Gov. Paul LePage told a Portland radio station Thursday that he had no knowledge of the final elements of a budget deal that his senior staff helped develop.

“I was completely in the dark,” the governor told WGAN host Ken Altshuler.

LePage said Mike Allen, his deputy finance chief and an expert on tax policy, routinely provided the tax analysis to legislators during budget negotiations.

“The Legislature doesn’t have the capacity to do the analyses, despite their high salaries,” he said. “So we give them access to (Maine Revenue Services) staff.”

He added, “I don’t go and grab (the analyses). They want them, they get them. That doesn’t mean I know what’s in them.”

LePage’s comments were in response to a Portland Press Herald story that showed senior staffers in the LePage administration were well aware of the details of the budget talks and helped draft several tax analyses that became key to the budget’s passage in the Legislature. The report was based on documents the newspaper obtained from a Freedom of Access Act request that showed the governor’s deputy finance chief produced the final tax analysis. The analysis was delivered by the governor’s deputy chief of staff hours before Democratic and Republican leaders were set to brief their caucuses on the new agreement the evening of June 15.

The documents contradict statements made by LePage, who has fiercely criticized the private negotiations that determined final elements of the budget agreement.

The governor told Boston radio talk show host Howie Carr on June 16 that he had “no clue” what lawmakers were passing. LePage, who later said legislative leaders “checked their character and integrity at the door” in holding private budget discussions, has also used the nature of the negotiations to try to discredit the $6.7 billion state budget the Legislature passed over his veto.

LePage’s repeated attacks on the budget and the conduct of lawmakers who crafted it have provided a springboard for his campaign to get a referendum question on the ballot to eliminate the state income tax.

In the past, the governor has been accused of ordering his department heads not to testify before legislative committees. In 2013, following a run-in with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, LePage said that only he would testify before the Legislature’s budget-writing panel. Democrats have occasionally accused the administration of withholding information critical to determining whether the Legislature should adopt new laws.

LePage downplayed the revelation that his staff was intimately familiar with details of the budget, describing it as “Monday morning quarterbacking.”

Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and other top lawmakers have said the final budget talks were designed to break an impasse over tax cuts, welfare and an unidentified spending initiative sought by House Republican leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette of Newport.

The rest of the budget was adopted through the traditional budget-writing process, covered in detail in multiple news reports and relayed to rank-and-file lawmakers during caucus meetings. Legislative leaders, who LePage’s supporters have dubbed the “Gang of Four,” began private talks when Fredette insisted that his caucus would reject the budget because it did not contain a tax cut or significant changes to the welfare system.

Adrienne Bennett did not respond Wednesday to questions about why the governor allowed his staff to participate in a budget process that he found objectionable, or why he didn’t halt the analyses to force the discussions into public view. She said staff drafted a number of analyses for legislators “in the spirit of cooperation.” She said the governor’s deputy chief of staff coordinated the requests.

The private nature of the budget negotiations generated strong criticism from the media and LePage quickly seized upon it. The day after the budget deal was announced, legislative leaders were confronted by State House media and asked whether lawmakers would know the details of a plan that they were being asked to vote on.

Thibodeau conceded that the final details of the budget were reached in private and said he regrets that lawmakers didn’t share more information after the deal was struck. He said the tax plan and welfare elements – two of three major sticking points – were sensitive topics among their caucuses.

House Speaker Mark Eves, of North Berwick, told the Press Herald on Wednesday that the governor’s assertion that he was unaware of legislative leadership’s detailed plans was “disingenuous.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.