AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is threatening to veto the two-year state budget unless it stays very close to the measure he proposed, saying he will not budge from the amount of tax cuts or from his plan to reform pensions and welfare programs.
“If that budget is altered it is not my budget, it is the Legislature’s budget,” he said in an interview. “If they alter the pension [reforms], if they alter the tax breaks, if they alter the welfare reforms, those are the show stoppers.”
When asked if that means he will veto the budget should the Legislature pass a measure with any of those items changed, he said yes. LePage said he has made his position clear to legislative leaders of both parties and has urged passage of his budget as proposed.
“If they send me that, as is, I will sign it tomorrow,” he said.
But, he acknowledged, that is not going to happen. He also said he is willing to discuss how tax cuts are achieved, but will not budge from a total tax relief level of $203 million over the two-year budget.
“I am not against listening to any proposal they have, but I have not seen anything given to me that says we would cut this for this,” he said. “Of course the governor is like a parent, the last one to know.”
While the governor said he had informed lawmakers of his position, there was surprise and disbelief he had been so sweeping in his comments.
“He said that to you?” said Senate Majority Leader Jonathan Courtney, R-Springvale. “We are now in the position that we are going to need a two-thirds budget so we are going to do our best to negotiate a budget that takes his concerns into account. We share a lot of his priorities. But we are not drawing any lines in the sand.”
The budget would have to be approved and the Legislature adjourned by the end of the month to take effect by July 1, when the new budget year starts. Hearings on the budget are scheduled to continue through the month, and work sessions to finish a budget plan typically take several weeks before the full Legislature acts on them.
“The governor’s budget is in our hands now, it is in the hands of the Legislature,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the lead Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
She said that while the governor has made his stand clear, members of the committee plan to continue their deliberative process to craft a budget.
“We try very hard in Appropriations to keep all that sort of stuff outside the hearing room,” she said. “We have learned very well the need to do that over the years.”
Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the Senate co-chairman of the panel said many lawmakers support the governor’s proposals, but he agreed the budget is now the responsibility of the committee and the full Legislature to deliberate.
“I think that many of us are in sync with his goals as are many in the public,” he said.
But, he said, there are many issues, such as increased Medicaid use, that will affect the budget that were not known when the budget was submitted. He said the panel will consider all of those issues as it continues work.
What triggered LePage’s comments was a meeting of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee that held a session to get feedback from the state’s business community on the governor’s plan to reduce taxes. Several speakers said that not all tax breaks are equal when it comes to spurring job creation, and lawmakers should consider changes in the proposal.
The tax panel continues its work on the proposed tax changes later in the week. Budget hearings continue all month.