AUGUSTA, Maine — The passage of a biennial budget bill late Thursday represented a victory for Democrats who were able to negotiate away some of what they saw as Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s most disastrous proposals. But 10 House Democrats who voted against the budget said the compromise didn’t go far enough.
Thursday’s 102-43 House vote to enact the budget met the two-thirds threshold of all elected members needed to pass the spending plan as an emergency measure, meaning it can take effect July 1. A two-thirds vote of all lawmakers present at the time of the vote is needed to override what most everyone in state government expects will be a veto by LePage.
The 102 votes cast in favor of the budget in the House represent a meager one-vote insurance policy. Republicans — 23 of whom broke from LePage by voting in favor of the budget — have upheld every veto issued this session, calling into question whether the milestone votes Thursday will hold up.
The veto override could face a tough path in the Senate as well, which voted 25-10 in favor of the budget on Thursday. All 19 Democrats and one independent joined with five Republicans in supporting the budget. That’s also just one vote more than two-thirds.
Many of the 10 House Democrats who broke from their caucus said the compromise budget, specifically the cut to municipal revenue sharing, is still too damaging to municipalities and by extension, property taxpayers. LePage had proposed suspending municipal revenue sharing for the next two years to save the state approximately $200 million; Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Committee negotiated a deal to return about 64 percent of that amount to the budget.
That’s not enough, said Rep. Peter Kent, D-Woolwich, and several of the 10 Democrats who voted against the budget.
“I don’t think a lot of people really understand how this budget could impact their property taxes,” said Kent.
Rep. Denise Patricia Harlow, D-Portland, cited the same reason for her negative vote.
“We’re going to take a big hit in Portland on our property taxes,” said Harlow. “I’m hoping we can negotiate a better budget. I think it’s possible.”
If LePage’s veto is sustained, forcing the Legislature to revisit the budget, it is likely that the administration and lawmakers will have to sort through a slew of budget-balancing alternatives, many of which already have been aired and dismissed during Appropriations Committee negotiations. Deeper spending cuts urged by Republicans could cause even more Democrats to object. Hanging in the balance is a state shutdown if there isn’t a budget in place by the end of June.
Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, said the roughly 20 percent of his constituents who live in poverty were the deciding factor in his vote against the budget.
“I just couldn’t vote for a budget that raised property taxes,” he said.
Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, who is that city’s mayor, said his community is looking at cutting some $700,000 in spending but still raising the property tax commitment by more than 6 percent. He said he knew a failure of the budget compromise could lead to a worse situation.
“I don’t know what the ramifications will be if there’s a veto,” said Casavant.
Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, led negotiations for the Appropriations Committee’s Democrats on the municipal revenue sharing piece of the budget.
“None of us love this budget but this is the best possible budget we could get this year,” said Carey. “What was clear from [Thursday’s] vote was that there are more than 100 people in this chamber who understand the importance of compromise. We all feel the weight of doing the right thing for the people of Maine.”
While many lawmakers were unwilling to say whether they’ll vote to override a LePage veto, a couple said they would. They include Casavant and Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, who also voted against the budget. Some Republicans might also oppose a gubernatorial veto, including Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, one of a minority of Republicans who supported the budget.
Wilson’s district is home to many state workers, who would feel the pain of a state government shutdown.
“I would consider an override,” said Wilson. “I’m not going to commit to it right now, but I will consider it.”
By law, the governor has 10 days to decide whether to sign a bill into law or veto it. If neither is done in that time period, the bill goes into law unsigned. LePage has said repeatedly that he will need most or all of the 10 days to make his decision on the budget, which the Legislature sent to him Thursday night.