October 23, 2017
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New effort to break Maine budget stalemate defies LePage demand for no tax hike

By Michael Shepherd, BDN Staff
Updated:
Ashley L. Conti | BDN | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN | BDN
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, puts his hands to his face while listening to arguments during the Senate's hearing on the state budget at the Maine State House in Augusta, June 28 2017.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature’s special budget panel endorsed a two-year budget late Sunday, setting up a high-pressure round of Monday floor votes on Day 3 of a state shutdown, but risking another impasse with Gov. Paul LePage over hiking the lodging tax.

It came after the governor issued a Facebook video on Sunday warning legislative leaders that he “will not agree to a tax increase on the Maine people.” A LePage ally said there’s “no chance” that the governor would sign a budget with it.

The six-person panel evenly split between Republicans and Democrats backed the $7.1 billion package in a 5-1 vote on Sunday, with Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, opposing it, warning members that he would advise his fellow House Republicans to reject it because of the tax increase.

A group of 60 House Republicans blocked a deal on Saturday brokered by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, which forced the shutdown.

Over the weekend, legislators worked to gain a deal that LePage would sign. House Republicans presented, then modified a proposal, but the committee changed it to hike the lodging tax from 9 percent to 10.5 percent like the earlier Thibodeau-Gideon deal, but putting it into effect in November.

“With that in there, there’s no chance of getting the governor to sign it,” Winsor said after the vote.

For the first time, it shifted the focus of Maine’s budget debate away from education funding. This deal would add $162 million for K-12 schools over the last budget cycle while axing the voter-approved surtax on high earners expected to generate more than $300 million for schools that Republicans abhor.

The governor may also find more fault with the deal: It also doesn’t include a proposed pilot program for a statewide teacher contract, which Democrats in the House of Representatives rejected in bill form last month. However, it does make concessions on his demands for money to incentivize school district regionalization and to study the impact of conservation land on property taxes.

Only nine House Republicans broke ranks on Friday, and 14 more would have to defect to get the House to the 101 votes needed to enact the budget.

The Senate voted 34-1 for the compromise measure Friday, firmly placing the House Republicans as the group blocking a path to the two-thirds in both chambers needed to deliver a budget to LePage — and ultimately to override a veto.

Democrats and Senate Republicans have noted that LePage proposed hiking the lodging tax in his January budget proposal. The governor has countered that it was more than offset by other tax decreases as a shift to consumption taxes from income taxes.

On Sunday, Thibodeau countered Winsor on the panel by saying taxes were “greatly reduced” in the budget by striking the 3 percent tax on income over $200,000 backed by voters last year.

“I just want to be clear: A budget document isn’t a single line,” he said. “It is a comprehensive document.”

 


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