LePage: ‘I believe we’re going to shut down Friday night’

Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday it’s worth putting state government into a shutdown to ensure that the two-year state budget lawmakers are struggling to pass won’t harm Maine’s economy for the next decade.

LePage, speaking during a radio interview on WVOM, accused Democrats of backing measures that will “do damage” to the state, namely preserving the 3 percent surtax on income above $200,000 a year, which was approved by voters in a November 2016 referendum to funnel more revenue to public schools.

He also said Tuesday that he would not accept any last-minute proposals to increase other taxes and that any budget presented to him would have to address what he claims is the negative impact of land conservation on property taxes.

“I believe we’re going to shut down Friday night,” said LePage. “They asked me last night, what’s the cost of shutting down? The future of Maine. The future of Maine is worth shutting it down.”

Timing is what gives LePage new leverage in this stalemate. From a process perspective, LePage’s veto threats are largely irrelevant because the state budget needs two-thirds support in both chambers to go into effect by Saturday. That’s the same threshold the Legislature would need to overturn a gubernatorial veto.

However, LePage has said that he would hold the budget for up to the full 10 days the Maine Constitution gives him to review bills, which could trigger a shutdown no matter what the Legislature does.

LePage said non-starters for him are the preservation of the surtax or a General Fund budget with a bottom line in excess of $7.055 billion for the two-year cycle beginning July 1. However, LePage is still pushing for major policy reforms in the budget bill, some of which have already been rejected this year by the Legislature. They include a statewide labor contract for teachers and consolidation of schools’ administrative structures — which he and House Republicans have not budged on for weeks.

On Tuesday, he added another item: launching a review of Maine property that is not taxed, namely land in conservation, with the goal of moving some or all of it back onto the property tax rolls. He also dug up another policy goal he’s had for years and which has been repeatedly turned back by the Legislature: allowing people to start working in Maine at age 14, instead of 16 under current law. LePage argued Tuesday that those younger workers are needed in the state’s hospitality and tourist industries.

LePage suggested that the Legislature enact the House Republicans’ version of the budget bill, with the policy changes, and said he and the Legislature could return to the school funding issue in the future if the reforms don’t work. Absent that, he put his opposition in black and white.

“I just know what I’m going to do and they’re playing chicken with me,” he said. “I’m the worst guy in the world to play chicken with because I don’t veer either way. I go straight ahead so if there’s a collision to be had, it’s coming Friday night.”

During Maine’s last shutdown in 1991, state workers camped on the lawn of Capitol Park in front of the State House. They are taking a more pre-emptive approach this year, and pressure may build in Augusta on Tuesday, when the Maine State Employees Association has scheduled a “day of action” to lobby lawmakers on the budget. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • LePage has signed a bill to reinstate the tip credit for restaurant wait staff. We told you yesterday that the bill awaited the governor’s signature, but Krysta West, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans, said Tuesday that LePage has actually signed the bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, as expected. It will roll back part of the minimum wage referendum passed by voters in 2016 that began to phase out a lower base minimum wage for tipped workers. Starting in 2018, their minimum base wage will again be half of Maine’s hourly minimum as long as tips boost them to the normal threshold of $9. — Michael Shepherd
  • A who’s who of Maine Democrats will appear at a Maine People’s Alliance event in Portland on Thursday. The progressive group is bringing prospective 2018 candidates and activists together at the Maine Irish Heritage Center. The roster includes Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and Lee Auto Malls Chairman Adam Lee, who are two prospective Democratic gubernatorial candidates, along with lobbyist Betsy Sweet, a declared Blaine House candidate. Maine Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, state Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester and prospective 2nd Congressional District candidate Jonathan Fulford of Monroe will also be there.— Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

There’s a busy day on tap at the State House today — as there should be when we’re four days from a government shutdown.

  • The special budget committee went in today just before 9 a.m. Meetings of this six-person committee usually reflect progress out of closed-door meetings between legislative leaders, but there were still plenty of divides between them on Monday and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, opened the meeting by say little progress had been made and that it is “embarrassing and unconscionable” that Maine stands 87 hours from a shutdown. She said the committee originally planned to vote a budget out of the committee today, but that now doesn’t look likely.
  • Ranked-choice voting may start on a path toward death. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled the voter-approved law unconstitutional last month and it quickly looked like the Legislature would move to repeal it. A bill from Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, could run in the Senate on Tuesday, although a spokeswoman for him said it’s uncertain. A constitutional amendment from Sen. Catherine Breen, D-Falmouth, to allow ranked-choice voting failed to get two-thirds support last week in the House and could be killed today for good with a vote in the Senate.
  • Twelve LePage vetoes are up for votes in both chambers. Most of the vetoes to be dealt with today — eight in the House; four in the Senate — are minor. Two of the bills would affect foreclosure law and two others would implement recommendations from the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on oversight of economic development programs.

That’s just a quick summary, with lots of bills up in the House and Senate. Tool through them on your own, though. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

People need another racket

I was shooting hoops with my boys last night. We were playing HORSE and unfortunately for me, the 6-year-old was piling up letters on me.

I don’t know where his competitiveness comes from, but whenever he sank a basket he turned to me and yelled “people need another racket!” Some memory cue deep inside me almost came to the surface, but not quite. All I could think of is there are no rackets in basketball. Then he sunk another shot.

“People need another racket!” he said. “Pump up the volume, dance dance.”

Suddenly I knew what he was saying, or singing as it turned out. “Put the needle on the record.” Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.