AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature tracked toward a potential Monday vote to reopen state government after Republicans aligned with Gov. Paul LePage fleshed out a two-year budget offer that was revised downward in cost on Sunday.
It was no sure thing on Sunday evening, when the hunkered-down Republican governor interrupted negotiations to blast House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, saying she’s “controlled by union bosses” for not agreeing to previously rejected education policy changes.
The Legislature’s special budget panel was expected to vote Sunday night on a $7.1 billion offer from House Republicans, 60 of whom forced the Saturday shutdown by blocking a deal brokered by Gideon and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, presented it once to the panel on Saturday. In the morning, the Legislature’s fiscal office estimated it would cost $1.7 million more than the Thibodeau-Gideon plan. By the afternoon, it was revised to say it would be $1.4 million less.
Private negotiations ran all afternoon as a small group of union state employees occupied the building on the second day of the shutdown. They planned a rally on Monday, with all but those deemed essential by LePage available to attend because they will not be on the job.
Thibodeau gave a hopeful timeframe early Sunday afternoon, saying he hoped the committee could vote on a budget that night and get it to the full Legislature for a vote by Monday, when state employees would be returning to work under normal circumstances.
“We’re a few million dollars apart,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s a reason to keep people from going to work.”
But tension remained on Sunday evening. LePage issued a Facebook video blasting Thibodeau and Gideon for “not working on behalf of the Maine people” and calling on the Legislature to pass the House Republican budget Sunday night — a timeframe that was virtually impossible.
He saved his harshest remarks for Gideon, saying she’s “controlled by union bosses” and “would rather continue the shutdown rather than agree to an item in the package that would provide for a pilot program for a statewide teacher contract, which Democrats in the House of Representatives rejected in bill form last month.
A Gideon spokeswoman said Sunday evening that negotiations are “ongoing,” but the speaker told the committee in the morning that she could “barely contain my fury” that new information was presented by House Republicans on their offer.
Legislative leaders are holding members in the building every day until a budget is signed, which led to an impromptu Sunday gathering of state employees and some senators who voted for the Gideon-Thibodeau deal.
The Senate voted 34-1 for the Gideon-Thibodeau plan, with only Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, opposing it.
Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, noted the novelty of the bipartisan meeting with members of the liberal Maine State Employees Association, joking that “it might be a first” that she was asked to speak before saying, “I regret that we were ever at this place.”
“You sent a message,” said Ramona Welton, the union’s president, to senators. “We heard it; we will remember it.”