After hours of floor debate Wednesday, members of the Maine House and then the Maine Senate overwhelmingly voted to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the budget, showing their constituents they know how to compromise and work within divided government, and putting an end to fears about a government shutdown. In the hour it mattered most, legislators said no to LePage. It was the first time they voted successfully to override one of his more than 50 vetoes.
We are particularly proud of the leadership demonstrated by Republicans. Six Republicans in the Senate, or 40 percent, and 24 Republicans in the House, or 30 percent, cast votes to override, standing up to a Republican governor who later criticized them publicly. They recognized the inaccurate statements of many of their colleagues who argued the $6.3 billion budget proposal was a tax increase. While it does enact temporary sales, meals and lodging tax increases, LePage’s original budget would have caused a stunning cost shift to municipalities — up to $200 million over two years — requiring local property tax increases.
Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, shared her personal tax burden to highlight what would have happened under LePage’s budget: She said her household would have paid $30 less in income taxes but $300 more in property taxes per year, with the situation replicating itself across the state. For one representative, however, the $75 million cut to municipal revenue sharing was still too much. As Rep. Brian Jones of Freedom, the only Democrat to vote against the budget, put it, “We’re asking municipalities to raise property taxes that affect the least among us — the indigent, the working poor, those on fixed incomes.”
We recognize this cut will cause towns and cities to have to make difficult decisions. We also recognize the political reality: Majority Democrats needed Republicans to override a veto, and the 13 members of the Appropriations Committee crafted a budget to that end. As House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said, “With our vote for this budget, we are not endorsing tax increases. We are endorsing compromise — an indispensable requirement of governing that has been endorsed by many great Republicans.”
Many legislators spoke about their override vote as a way to prevent a state shutdown, which would have only harmed the state. Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, said that voting for the budget might be difficult, but it’s “necessary in order to ensure that our government continues to serve the people.” Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, who was a state employee during the last shutdown in 1991, listed the effects of no government operations: state parks closed; no drivers’ licenses issued; no licenses or inspections for retail businesses or restaurants; and no state engineers to oversee construction on state roads.
Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, spoke of some of the positive aspects of the budget, highlighting the increase in funding for public education, including more money for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, which helps high school students prepare for life after school, and the Bridge Year Program, to enable high school students to earn college credits. She stressed the importance of funding the Drugs for the Elderly program, which provides assistance for those 62 and older to pay for their prescription drugs.
Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, spoke on the floor for the first time about the budget in support the months of hard work by Appropriations Committee members, who listened to more than 360 people testify. “We put our teams of negotiators together based on knowledge, skills and work as appropriators. This committee was determined to get to yes, to a unanimous vote. To me that’s incredible and nearly impossible to do. Yet they did,” he said. “For what it’s worth, I’ve got your back.”
It was worth it. Lawmakers finally showed they are willing to stand up to LePage. And they did it with regard for one another. That element of respect has been missing from LePage’s behavior and statements. We agree with the Wednesday OpEd by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, that LePage’s vulgar comments about Sen. Troy Jackson, D- Allagash, his subsequent fake apology and continued aggression toward Democrats and Republicans alike are embarrassing. Legislators showed Wednesday they can solve major problems — as their constituents elected them to do — and do it with reasoned and respectful debate.