AUGUSTA, Maine — The rift between Republican leaders in the Maine House and Senate continued to grow Tuesday, with dueling accounts about how negotiations on the state budget have created a split between Republicans in each chamber.
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, called claims made Monday and Tuesday by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette that he had been excluded from budget negotiations “beyond absurd.”
“I find Rep. Fredette’s words and actions very disappointing, given what’s at stake with a budget deadline looming,” Saviello said. “On Friday evening, after numerous meetings between Democrat and Republican leaders, Rep. Fredette told Senate Republican leaders that he was pulling his caucus out of budget talks by saying, ‘We are going our own way.’”
Fredette responded with incredulity that Republicans in the Senate would make such a claim because, according to Fredette, they didn’t reveal to him or any of the House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee that they had hatched a budget deal with Democrats until after noon Sunday. The deal includes a promise from Democrats that they will support a constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to enact any income tax increase.
“On Thursday, there was a 90-minute meeting with the governor to discuss the budget, and they didn’t say one word,” Fredette said, referring to Senate President Mike Thibodeau, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing. “Seventy-two hours later, they announce this grand bargain with the Democrats that includes a constitutional amendment. That doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”
Fredette told reporters during a news conference at the State House on Monday and again on radio program Tuesday morning that he has been shut out of negotiations on the biennial state budget.
Neither Fredette nor Saviello serve on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, but as House minority leader Fredette regularly consults with the four Republican House members on the panel.
Fredette and Saviello provided the BDN with detailed accounts of contacts that GOP House and Senate leaders and their staffs have had with each other since Thursday. Saviello said he stepped into the situation by issuing a news release Tuesday because he felt Fredette was throwing Thibodeau of Winterport and Mason of Lisbon “under the bus.”
“The idea that Senate leadership would exclude Ken from budget meetings is beyond absurd,” Saviello said. “They are prepared to meet with him at any time. In order to have a place at the table, you first need to come to the table. This is what I encourage Ken to do.”
Saviello supported his version of events by providing the BDN with printouts of text messages and lists of times Saturday and Sunday that Fredette and other House members were contacted but didn’t respond. One text from Mason to his chief of staff, Diane Johanson, appears to show Fredette had pulled House Republicans out of negotiations.
“We are officially on our own,” Mason’s text read, according to Saviello’s printout. “House just left us.”
Fredette said his caucus’ position on the budget has never been in question. He reiterated Tuesday that House Republicans wouldn’t support a budget that doesn’t include income tax cuts, welfare reform and spending reductions. He said in addition to the meeting GOP leaders had with LePage on Thursday, he had a face-to-face conversation Saturday with Thibodeau, in which Thibodeau made no mention of the budget deal with Democrats.
Fredette has been leading an effort to undermine the direction Senate Republicans and Democrats in leadership and on the Appropriations Committee are taking on the budget. He has said he has enough support in his caucus to block a two-thirds vote in favor of the budget, which is required because of how close it is to the end of the fiscal year June 30. It would take 18 House Republicans voting with all Democrats and the five House independents to achieve a two-thirds vote.
This degree of bitter disagreement among members of a single party is a rare spectacle in Maine, but LePage and his supporters also are joining in. LePage has said he’ll campaign against Republicans in 2016 if they don’t follow his lead on tax reform, and a political action committee run by his daughter, Lauren LePage, weighed in with a series of robocalls Monday evening and an email Tuesday, including criticism of Thibodeau and Mason.
LePage was scheduled to hold a town hall-style meeting Tuesday evening in Lisbon, which is Mason’s district.