AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine House Speaker Robert Nutting on Friday responded to a Freedom of Access Act request from Democrats, saying his office conducted an “anonymous poll” to ask whether GOP House members wanted to return this week to address Gov. Paul LePage’s line-item vetoes.
Of members polled, 53 said they did not wish to return, while 21 said they wanted to come back. Four members were not reached by late Tuesday, Nutting said in a statement.
Senate President Kevin Raye’s office had provided the Bangor Daily News earlier this week with the results of the Senate Republicans’ poll with names attached. A strong majority of GOP senators said they didn’t see the need to convene.
Nutting’s office, however, did not provide results to the BDN after being asked Tuesday.
“My office used an anonymous poll, which is used frequently by both Republican and Democrat caucuses in other matters, such as electing caucus leaders,” Nutting said in a statement.
Last Saturday, Gov. Paul LePage used his line-item veto authority to eliminate two lines from a supplemental budget package that passed with overwhelming legislative support.
Those lines were: funding for an estimated $8 million shortfall in the general assistance program for the 2013 fiscal year and about $3 million in “disproportionate share” funding to hospitals and psychiatric facilities to offset losses in federal funding.
This was the first time since Maine voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1995 that a governor has used that power. Since no precedent exists, there has been confusion and disagreement on how to proceed.
The constitutional amendment that allows line-item vetoes does not get into specifics. It says a governor can use that power, but it also says the Legislature can consider and overturn those line-item vetoes with a simple majority vote.
As for how that process happens, lawmakers must refer to their own rules. Both the House and Senate rules have language that says the Legislature “shall act” on the governor’s line-item veto within five days.
Democrats and Republicans agree that “shall” in this case means “must,” but there has been disagreement about what constitutes “action.”
Democrats have argued that “action” means calling the Legislature back and taking an on-the-record vote. Since the House Republicans did not keep or release an official tally with corresponding names, some could argue that the vote was taken in secret.
Republicans, however, have said polling its members about whether to come back was action enough.
“It is clear to me that because the Democrats don’t like the results, they are now more interested in playing political games than in addressing important issues like general assistance funding and payments to our mental health hospitals,” Nutting’s statement said.
House Minority Leader Emily Cain said Friday the results are meaningless without the names attached. “This poll has the same impact as an official vote but it wasn’t taken in public,” she said. “The people of Maine should know how their lawmakers felt about this.”
Republicans also have said that the two items that were vetoed by the governor are likely to be put back on the table when lawmakers begin discussing a 2013 supplemental budget for the Department of Health and Human Services in May.
Follow BDN writer Eric Russell on Twitter @BDNPolitics.