Gov. Paul LePage criticized the ongoing budget process Tuesday on his weekly call to the George Hale Ric Tyler Show on WVOM.

LePage said that he’s out of the loop on the budget negotiations taking place between leaders of the Legislature. He did say, however, that he wouldn’t hesitate to veto a budget he thinks is bad for Maine, even if it leads to a government shutdown.

“I know the attempt is going to be to run the clock out, give me a budget and say, ‘we dare you to veto it.’ Well, I want to tell you something — if it hurts Maine I’m going to veto it,” said LePage.

LePage said that his staff was beginning to look at how it will manage a state government shutdown in the event that the Legislature does not pass a budget by their deadline of June 30.

“I’m going to ask the commissioners to take a look at what are the most vital services that are being provided in each agency and what do we have to do, and we’re having the lawyers look into what needs to happen in case they can’t come to an agreement,” he said.

House Speaker Sarah Gideon, D-Freeport, characterized education funding as a sticking point in the negotiation process in a later, separate segment on the show. A 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 was approved by voters in November, but the governor has forcefully opposed its implementation.

Gideon said that the important thing was to agree on an appropriate spending level for education, and then find a way to fund it — whether through a surtax or another method.

“(Democrats) have indicated that we’re open to compromise on both what that education funding is — if we reach it in the first year or the second year of the biennium — and additionally, how we pay for it and how we do it in a way that really works both now and in the future,” said Gideon.

“Question 2 gave us a way to pay for it,” said Gideon. “But I think when it comes down to it, there are creative ways that we can do this. It is important to Democrats that we make sure that funding is sustainable into the future.”

In his earlier interview, LePage criticized the idea of increasing education spending without implementing serious reforms.

He characterized the Legislature’s approach by saying, “Basically, we want money and we don’t want to do any reforms.”

“We have a Senate that just wants to throw $150 million at a problem and go home and nobody wants to reform. I’m just not that interested in it,” he added.

Democrats have rallied around characterizing increased education spending by the state as a property tax cut, arguing that if the state pays more, towns will have to pay for less of the school budget. LePage attacked that narrative, arguing that education isn’t the only thing driving up property taxes.

Land trusts comments

“Everybody thinks that the only thing that’s causing property taxes to go up is education,” said the governor. “Education is one of two major influences on property taxes. One that nobody wants to talk about and wants to ignore is the hundreds of millions of dollars in property that’s been taken off the tax rolls and put into trusts — in land trusts and conservation trusts. Those are costing rural areas of Maine hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, and they just refuse to talk about it.”

Unprovoked, LePage also attacked Gideon on-air.

“When you have a speaker that, you ask the speaker, you say, ‘Do you believe that the 50 states are laboratories of democracy and that we should take the best from each state, recognize what does not work and not do that,’ and her answer was ‘no,’” said LePage. “She doesn’t believe in my strategy.”

Returning to the budget though, LePage said he didn’t expect a shutdown to happen.

“I think we don’t shut government down,” said the governor. “I think if they shut government down, I think Democrats are gonna take one wallop next year.”

“We’re progressing slowly,” said Gideon of negotiations. “We’ve had some big issues in front of us that have really created an impasse at certain times. We’re trying really hard every day to come back together and try to figure out how we cross that impasse and actually come together, close the gap between us and create a budget that works for Maine people.”

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