AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill spearheaded by Gov. Paul LePage to restore $21 million to the state’s rainy day fund and a $58 million patch for the biennial budget cruised through the House of Representatives on Friday morning with no debate.
The Senate is expected to take up both bills this afternoon, after which they’ll face additional votes in both chambers. Democrats have hopes to enact both bills and send them to the governor as soon as Friday evening.
While LePage supports the rainy day fix — it was his bill, after all — he’s made no comment on whether he approves of lawmakers’ plan to balance the books in 2014. Normally, the governor proposes his own supplemental budget, but LePage — still upset over the Legislature’s override of his budget veto last year — has opted not to, saying any shortfall is lawmakers’ problem to deal with, not his.
He’s also said he’d keep the Legislature in session past its scheduled mid-April adjournment — perhaps by ordering a special session this spring or summer — in order to get a budget fix he likes.
Both bills won the unanimous approval of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee in the early hours of the morning Wednesday after members worked through the night. But the ease with which both bills passed the House belied the heated debate that had surrounded both measures in recent weeks.
The first bill, LD 1807, would restore $21 million to the state’s budget stabilization fund after lawmakers approved a plan to use that money as part of a plan to restore $40 million of state aid to municipalities. LePage blasted that plan, saying drawing funds from state reserve account would hurt the state’s credit rating. He also said he’d delay issuance of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure bonds until the Legislature approved his plan to immediately replenish the rainy day fund.
Majority Democrats on the Appropriations Committee originally approved an amended version of LD 1807 that also included about $18 million in fiscal year 2015 spending, including already negotiated merit and longevity raises for state employees and funding for education.
The spending would have been paid for in part by eliminating several business tax credits, which LePage and Republicans have decried as tax increases. The governor said he would only sign the “clean” version of the bill, and the committee went back to the drawing board.
In the end, that $18 million amendment was wrapped into LD 1843, the second bill given initial approval by the Legislature on Friday. That bill also fills a $40 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, effectively balancing the books through the end of June.
Peter Steele, the governor’s communications director, said LePage had not yet been briefed on the bill, and he had not yet decided whether he’d sign or veto it if it passes final enactment.
The Appropriations Committee’s work to address the rest of the fiscal year 2015 shortfall is ongoing. Appropriators and the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review have both said the size of the remaining shortfall is still a moving target but are hopeful to pass a budget patch before session ends in mid-April.
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Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.