AUGUSTA, Maine — Don’t expect Gov. Paul LePage to step in as a peacemaker as negotiations over Maine’s next two-year budget, which must be in place by July 1 to avoid a government shutdown, reach critical mass.
During a Tuesday morning radio appearance on WVOM, the Republican governor distanced himself from the budget talks — but not before spraying some vinegar on the situation.
LePage cast the Legislature as inexperienced and lazy and said he won’t be rushed to act on the at least $6.8 billion state biennial budget bill that dominates attention right now at the State House.
LePage’s latest barbs at the Legislature, echo statements he’s made many times during his stint as governor and come as little surprise as lawmakers have reached an impasse on the budget bill that is headed toward an 11th-hour conference committee negotiation.
“They’ve been given a very good budget. … They’ve been sitting on their hands since January, and shame on them,” LePage said of his own budget proposal. He suggested that lawmakers also are enacting other bills they haven’t fully researched.
“This is the laziest bunch I have ever seen in my life in this Legislature,” he said. “They are not doing any work. In some cases it’s because they don’t know what to do. … I’m really ashamed to be a part of this government.”
With lawmakers saying they’re focused on sending LePage a budget in time to give him his constitutional 10 days to act on it, LePage suggested he doesn’t care how late the budget comes to his desk. He is widely expected to veto the budget — it’s virtually a guarantee — and said Tuesday that is a certainty if the spending tops $7 billion. His budget plan tallied around $6.8 billion.
“If they cross into the $7 billion range they get a veto, and I don’t care if it’s July 1 or July 15,” he said. “They’ve had six months, sat on their hands and now they want to put a gun to my head. Sorry, guys. If they’re not going to do their job, I’m going to do mine.”
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, declined comment. However, veto talk is basically irrelevant at this juncture in the process, as any budget bill will have to clear both chambers with two-thirds majorities — the threshold to override a veto — to be enacted as an emergency measure.
LePage said he’s so frustrated with the Legislature that he favors a change to the Maine Constitution that would require the Legislature to make the initial budget proposal, rather than the governor.
LePage also lamented how few lawmakers are willing to work with him. He criticized Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, saying he “hasn’t spoken to me in years.”
LePage praised House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, as well as two Democrats: Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, a member of the budget committee who has proposed rejecting the committee’s recommendations rather than forward unwinnable proposals, and Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham.
“Those guys are really showing some leadership,” LePage said.
This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.