The Legislature is nearing the end of its work this session but still in limbo is getting in place a two-year budget, so the state can keep working. The governor for weeks has threatened to veto the bipartisan balanced budget passed by a supermajority in the Legislature.
As recently as last Thursday, at a pep rally, the governor reaffirmed his veto threat and repeated that he’d rather shut down state government than sign this responsible budget.
Yet the current two-year budget approved by the Legislature is one built on compromise — by Republicans and Democrats alike. It’s a responsible solution that prevents massive property tax hikes on all Maine homeowners.
In divided government, compromise is necessary for good governance, and while this budget doesn’t give everyone everything they want, it is a drastic improvement upon the harmful effects of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget. Lawmakers should stand by their votes and override the governor’s veto.
In January, the governor handed down a budget proposal so devastating that even his own budget commissioner called it a budget of desperation —- which it was.
His budget suspended municipal revenue sharing, gutted property tax relief programs, reduced funding for education and cut state funding for programs that help the elderly pay for their medicine. All told, the governor’s budget shifted $400 million onto our towns and homeowners. His budget also had $100 million in direct new tax increases, including $30 million in taxes on our hospitals.
Fortunately, through hard work and determination, Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Committee crafted an alternative budget they could unanimously recommend to the full Legislature and which was approved in both chambers by more than two thirds of lawmakers.
The Legislature’s budget restores nearly two thirds of the cuts to municipal revenue sharing, maintains property tax relief programs that help people stay in their homes and restores funding to programs that help the elderly pay for their medicine.
The Legislature’s budget also adds more than $30 million in funding for education and creates a path for the state to finally meet its commitment to fund 55 percent of K-12 education.
Democratic and Republican legislators also fashioned a responsible solution to our revenue shortfall by closing corporate tax loopholes and temporarily increasing the sales tax by half a penny and the meals and lodging tax by 1 percent. Both of these increases will end on June 30, 2015, when the state’s economic climate will have improved.
To be clear, this budget is far from ideal. But it is substantially better than the budget the Appropriations Committee started with this winter, and it is one we all worked on together. I was proud that leadership from both parties and both chambers stayed at the table and continued negotiating in the final hours to compromise and craft a responsible budget.
Unfortunately, the governor has not only threatened to veto the budget, he has proposed an unconstitutional shutdown gimmick. This political stunt is yet another example of one man standing in the way of progress for the entire state.
The governor has proven time and time again that he will not negotiate, let alone compromise. From crude personal attacks and threats to his refusals to meet with legislative leaders, he has demonstrated that he is an unwilling partner in government.
This is not leadership. It’s not how you run a business, and it’s certainly not how you run a government. This is bullying, plain and simple.
I call on my colleagues, in both chambers of the Legislature and in all parties, to say enough is enough and override the governor’s veto. The stakes are too high to flip your vote. We had a supermajority in both chambers when we passed this budget, and the 127 of us who voted for this budget need to stand by our votes.
The only way you stop a bully is to stand up to him. Let’s stand up to LePage. Let’s stand up with the 15 men and women on the Appropriations Committee who put politics aside and crafted a budget we can all accept. And let’s stand up for the people of Maine, who expect and deserve their leaders to compromise and work together.
Let’s pass this budget.
Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is assistant Senate majority leader. His columns appear monthly.