GOV. PAUL LEPAGE

GOV. PAUL LEPAGE

BRUNSWICK

Gov. Paul LePage predicted a shutdown of the state government on Tuesday.

“I believe we’re going to shut down Friday night,” LePage said, speaking on the George Hale Ric Tyler Show.

LePage said Republican leaders were working hard to pass a budget and placed the blame squarely on the Democrats’ shoulders.

“I will say (House Speaker) Sarah Gideon has worked very, very hard. … I mean, she’s trying,” said LePage. “But she has got a caucus that is impossible. It’s almost like they hate the state of Maine. I’m sorry, but I can’t believe that they are trying to do the damage that they’re doing.”

LePage has previously stated that even if he is handed a budget as late as Friday, he is willing to wait the full 10 days allotted to him before vetoing it.

Still, LePage blames Democrats for waiting until the last minute to get a budget to his desk, pointing to the fact that he submitted his budget proposal back in January.

“They’ve had the budget since January. The Democrats have been sitting on the sideline waiting till the 11th hour, then put a gun to my head and say ‘sign it or you shut it down.’ And I will tell you, back in January, I said pass a budget that does no harm to the state. They’re not going to do harm to the state today, but they’re going to make it impossible for the state of Maine to ever become prosperous,” said the governor.

Education funding has been a sticking point in negotiations.

In November, voters approved a referendum that places a 3 percent sur tax on incomes of more than $200,000, the purpose of which is to fulfill a mandate that the state pay 55 percent the cost of local education — a mandate that has never been met.

Republicans oppose the surtax, and have worked to repeal or reduce the surtax. Gideon noted last week that Democrats were willing to compromise on the surtax as long as education was appropriately funded.

On Tuesday, however, LePage repeated his claim that education spending was only part of the problem of rising property taxes, the other part being land trusts and conservation organizations that are exempt from property taxes.

“The bigger problem, the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been taken off of the tax rolls over the last 10 years are causing property taxes to go up, and that is the land trusts, the conservation lands,” said LePage. “If they don’t address that, they’re doing irrevocable damage to the state going forward, and that’s harmful. If they think that putting a gun to my head, that I’m going to back down, they’re sorely mistaken.”

A proposal to nix land trusts’ and other nonprofits’ exemption to property taxes was part of the governor’s budget proposal back in 2015, as part of several major changes to the tax code.

State Sen. Everett “Brownie” Carson, D-Harpswell, for one, opposes the governor’s targeting of land trusts in budget negotiations.

“I believe that the governor’s proposal to end property tax exemptions for nonprofit land conservation organizations is a product of his hostility toward land conservation and environmental organizations,” he said.

“The amount of property tax that would be paid on most conserved land, particularly if it is undeveloped, wild, open land, is generally going to be very small by comparison with the land around it,” added Carson. “In 35 years of direct professional involvement in the environmental community and the conservation community, I have never heard a community express opposition to conservation of land based upon it being removed from the tax rolls.”

Carson also argued that it is important to make a clear distinction between the state budget and property tax increases, which provide revenues for municipalities — not the state.

“For the governor to assert that there’s even a remote link between the state budget, which is state revenues and state expenditures, and conservation lands and property taxes, it has no foundation in reality,” he said.

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