AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s government shut down for the first time since 1991 at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, as Republicans in the House of Representatives left to chants of “shame” after they effectively killed a two-year budget compromise forged by two legislative leaders.
As they left, Gov. Paul LePage was reportedly set to propose another budget bill by Monday, but House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said from the rostrum that “in its current form and with its current list of demands, it will not win Democratic votes to pass this House.”
The final votes came after the Republican governor summoned legislative leaders to the Blaine House at 10:30 p.m. Friday, where Gideon said the governor “had a temper tantrum” and walked out at one point, saying, “Shut her down” in reference to state government.
“So, all I can ask as we sit here moments from midnight, that we all look deeply within ourselves before making this choice,” Gideon said before a vote. “As representatives, we are accountable first not to our party, not to our leadership, not to the chief executive, but just to our constituents.”
But after that, 60 House Republicans voted for the third time against a budget negotiated by Gideon and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, withholding the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the budget after it sailed through the Senate 34-1 on Friday.
Gideon’s and Thibodeau’s proposed budget failed after LePage assailed the deal in a Friday news conference and prior meeting with House Republicans, telling reporters Thibodeau and Gideon were “trying to put a gun to the governor’s head.”
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, defended his caucus’ stance, saying they must deliver a budget LePage “could sign” rather than one that passes with two-thirds majorities and sits on the governor’s desk for the allotted 10 days he has to act on it.
Fredette said the Legislature could vote by Sunday on LePage’s new budget bill, saying the governor “does not want a state government shutdown,” which prompted laughter from Democrats who Gideon angrily gaveled down.
Details were thin Friday on LePage’s proposed deal, but the Bangor Daily News obtained what one lawmaker said is a list of LePage’s demands. The list stated the governor would allow $160 million in added education funding over the two-year budget that ended Friday night, minus the voter-approved surtax on high earners that is earmarked for education funding but Republicans have aimed to kill.
That’s only $2 million shy of Thibodeau’s and Gideon’s education figure, but LePage’s latest offer reportedly adds a number of potential poison pills for progressives, including a pilot program for a statewide teacher contract already rejected by Democrats, a program that would identify tax-exempt property held by land trusts and the repeal of the voter-approved ranked-choice voting law.
When the Legislature missed the midnight deadline, it triggered a LePage emergency order giving him wide authority over 12,000 state employees. Those deemed to provide “emergency” services can be forced to work without pay and would be paid when a budget deal is reached.
BDN State House bureau chief Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.