Governor sticks by Maine budget veto threat

Posted March 15, 2011, at 10:24 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Democratic leader of the Appropriations Committee denounced Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s threat to veto a budget that doesn’t include what he wants, saying she’s “not sure if this kind of rhetoric helps us with the process.”

LePage proposed a $6.1 billion budget for the two years starting July 1. The budget needs a two-thirds majority to pass, meaning it will require bipartisan support.

“The Legislature is working very hard for a two-thirds budget, and I’m not sure if this kind of rhetoric helps us with the process,” said Rep. Peggy Rotondo of Lewiston.

“There is a process here, and Republicans and Democrats are very committed to that process, in terms of listening to the people of Maine, taking public input and then deliberating and coming up with a recommendation,” Rotondo added.

In response to a media inquiry Monday, LePage threatened to veto a budget that alters his proposed $203 million in tax breaks, pension and welfare changes. He expressed openness toward negotiating details of how to achieve his desired tax cuts, but insisted on maintaining the bottom line.

LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt on Tuesday said the governor was not backing away from his position.

The proposed pension cuts must achieve the desired savings, $203 million must be realized in tax cuts, and welfare rules must be revamped.

“He’s willing to negotiate the numbers, but he needs to get to the same bottom line. He’s willing to look at options of how to get there,” Demeritt said.

Rotondo would not say whether the governor will get what he wants in the package that lawmakers pass.

“It’s in the Legislature’s hands now. It’s up to the Legislature to make decisions with regard to these various elements in the budget, and it will be up to the Republicans and Democrats on the Appropriations Committee to craft a budget to then go to the rest of the Legislature for a vote,” said Rotondo. “It’s in our hands now.”

Maine Democratic state Chairman Ben Grant had stronger words, saying LePage “needs to realize that our government is a democracy, not a dictatorship. This is not ‘his’ budget, it is the state of Maine’s budget.”

Under LePage’s plan, the $203 million in tax reductions would be accomplished through conformity of state with federal taxes, elimination of the so-called marriage penalty and increasing the personal exemption among other changes.

The budget seeks to save millions in welfare by changes such as eliminating what LePage calls “instant eligibility” and a five-year time limit on eligibility. His budget proposals also would increase teachers’ employee contributions to the pension system, raise the retirement age and impose new limits on cost-of-living increases.

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