Gov. Paul LePage pretty much has it made this winter when it comes to Maine’s untenable budget position.
Maine’s budget will — somehow — have to come into balance, and there’s a good chance that will happen without LePage having to make any of the hard decisions or doing any of the heavy lifting. Plus, he and Republican allies in the Legislature can criticize and distance themselves from any less-than-desirable solution in an election year — be it a program cut or a tax hike.
LePage last year vetoed the Legislature’s compromise budget, risking a state government shutdown. Since the budget he vetoed is the one that took effect, the governor has claimed no responsibility for it.
Governors traditionally propose supplemental budgets during the two-year budget cycle to keep spending and revenues in balance. But LePage is refusing to propose his own supplemental budget package this winter.
“They overrode my veto, and therefore they have inherited this budget, and they need to figure out a way to balance it,” LePage told Sun Journal reporter Scott Thistle in September.
If LePage wants to run state government more like he would a business, we have a question for him: What CEO who wants to keep his job wouldn’t take part in solving a major budget crisis in his company even if he didn’t favor the circumstances that brought about said crisis?
Although LePage has distanced himself from the supplemental budget process, departments within his executive branch, chiefly the Department of Health and Human Services, are still requesting additional funds to keep their budgets balanced. Some — the Department of Education and the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management — are also requesting funding for programs and new initiatives not included in the two-year state budget.
All the while, the executive branch isn’t coming forward with a way to make up for the shortfalls or come up with resources to cover the new funding requests. Even if lawmakers don’t support what the LePage administration proposes, the executive branch — which is responsible for the day-to-day operations of state government — is in the best position to chart a budget-balancing course.
LePage’s explanation for this lack of cooperation? He proposed a balanced budget in January 2013 that the Legislature rejected. Never mind that his budget proposal wasn’t truly balanced; it unacceptably shifted the state’s difficult fiscal math onto Maine’s towns and cities by proposing the elimination of municipal revenue sharing.
Either way, the dilemma puts LePage and Republicans in the perfect position to reject any solution from majority Democrats they find less than palatable.
Use money from the state’s reserves to see to it that towns and cities don’t continue to absorb revenue sharing cuts? Unacceptable.
Scale back some, perhaps, ineffective tax breaks enjoyed by businesses? An anti-business tax hike.
If the Legislature’s majority Democrats and enough Republicans aren’t able to come to a budget accord, LePage later this year will have to get his hands dirty and make some tough choices. He’ll have to order a budget curtailment in order to keep state spending in check. That could open him up to major criticism in an election year, as he will likely have to cut from public education and social services.
We hope the current situation doesn’t end in the need for a curtailment. But LePage isn’t helping to prevent it.
He doesn’t have to take responsibility for the two-year state budget — although the majority of the document is unchanged from his original proposal. But LePage is the state’s chief executive. It’s his responsibility to at least participate in the problem-solving.