June 20, 2019
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Why the Legislature is nearly past the point of no return on a budget

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The State House

AUGUSTA, Maine — If you’ve been paying attention to the biennial state budget battle at all, you know that it needs to be enacted by midnight June 30 or state government could lurch into shutdown.

Soon, presumably, you’ll read news that the Appropriations Committee has passed the budget. Later, you’ll read that it’s gone through the Legislature. Then, maybe, there will be a vote to override a veto from Gov. Paul LePage. Though those are the steps that play out in public, there is a lot that happens out of the spotlight.

That’s part of the reason there is so much focus on the budget right now. Monday is the day that budget committee analysts and members say is the last day for the committee to vote out the budget before the timeline becomes too tight for enactment by June 30. Here’s why:

It will take up to two weeks for the budget bill to be written. Two of the unheralded offices in the State House are the Revisor of Statutes and the Office of Fiscal and Program Review. The former writes the words; the latter crunches the numbers.

Though the staff in these offices uses a similar process for virtually every bill that goes through the Legislature, the biennial budget, at several hundred pages long, is probably the biggest job. And there are several factors that can make the job bigger:

— The more committee amendments there are to a bill, the longer it takes.

— The more changes and revisions, the longer it takes.

— Major change packages to budget bills can take days to incorporate.

— A split committee vote that produces minority and majority reports — as could be the case this year — extends the time it takes to prepare documents that must be available for floor votes in the House and Senate.

It will probably take at least two days for the bill to go through the Legislature. Most bills require at least two votes — and in the case of a bill as high profile as the biennial budget — there is likely to be considerable debate. If amendments are made and added on the floor of the House or Senate, the Legislature would then have to wait for the amendments to be written and incorporated by the Revisor of Statutes.

According to the Maine Constitution, LePage has up to 10 days, not counting Sundays, to veto or sign a bill. During his first term, LePage regularly used the entire 10 days to make his decisions. Then the Legislature would need a day to override or sustain the veto.

If you add all of those up and backtrack from June 30, the last day for the Appropriations Committee to act on the biennial budget is Monday, June 1. There is some wiggle room, however, which depends on how quickly the Revisor’s office and the governor fulfill their roles.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, suggested during a news conference Monday that the Legislature has at least another week until it’s really up against a wall. That statement supports Fredette’s goal of re-negotiating tax code and welfare reform issues within the budget, but most others would prefer to finish committee work on the budget by 11:59 p.m. Monday.

For the record, the last time state government shut down was in 1991 under Republican Gov. John McKernan. Here is a rundown of when biennial state budgets have been enacted since then:

 



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