As a candidate for governor, Paul LePage bragged that as Waterville mayor he simply told people what to do. Under the state constitution, however, he doesn’t tell the Legislature what to do, and these elected lawmakers play an important role — with input from the public — in writing a state budget for the next two years.
So, the governor’s threat to veto a state budget if it is changed from his proposal is foolhardy.
“If that budget is altered, it is not my budget, it is the Legislature’s budget,” he said Monday. “If they alter the pension [reforms], if they alter the tax breaks, if they alter the welfare reforms, those are the showstoppers.”
The budget doesn’t belong to a governor or the Legislature. Rather, both, under the state constitution, state statutes and legislative practice, work together to craft a budget that is balanced and best meets the state’s needs.
“The starting point for the biennial budget is the governor’s biennial budget document which is transformed by the Legislature into an enacted biennial budget bill,” the state Legislators’ Handbook says.
Transformed means changed.
“Many groups are involved in the process of developing and adopting the state budget, including the executive branch (the governor and the departments and agencies of the state), the Legislature, and the public,” the handbook continues.
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee takes the lead in reviewing the governor’s budget proposal and is required by law to hold public hearings on the proposal. Such hearings would be meaningless under Gov. LePage’s scenario in which the Legislature just rubber stamps what he says he wants.
Further, in his address to lawmakers about his budget, Gov. LePage complained that the process was rushed and that his budget would have been better with more time.
“Our budget is being made available on the 37th day of my term,” he said in February. “Given the logistics of drafting and printing the document, all of the major decisions were made before I was in office a month and before most of my commissioners were confirmed.
“And before a budget is drafted, suggestions for improvement should be considered,” he added.
The governor can’t say that more time is needed to craft a better budget, but, at the same time, that the Appropriations Committee shouldn’t take time to consider — and change — aspects of his budget proposal.
Further, the governor should be reminded that the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government (along with the judiciary), which, under the state constitution, doesn’t take orders from the executive office.
Article III, Distribution of Powers: “The powers of this government shall be divided into 3 distinct departments, the legislative, executive and judiciary. … No person or persons, belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any of the powers properly belonging to either of the others …”
Further, with his veto threat, the governor has diminished his role in the budget process. Knowing where he stands, lawmakers of both parties — first on the Appropriations Committee and then in the full Legislature — will continue to work on budget changes to address the concerns they’ve heard from constituents and others.
Given the timing, a two-thirds vote will be needed to pass the budget. That also happens to be the number needed to override a gubernatorial veto.