All the ways Maine’s budget ‘deal’ could fall apart

We don’t think we’re exaggerating when we say that Friday promises to be the most suspenseful day in the era of Gov. Paul LePage with the Legislature’s two presiding officers throwing a Hail Mary pass to close Maine’s budget impasse with no idea where it’ll land.

What we know is that the deal brokered late Thursday by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is virtually Maine’s only option to avoid a shutdown and an imperfect vessel that risks Republican and Democratic defections.

A shutdown will happen if LePage doesn’t sign a budget by midnight, but this offer tilts further toward the Democrats than a Wednesday offer from Senate Republicans that LePage criticized yesterday, saying he’d take his allotted 10 days to sign or veto any bill containing a tax increase with no income tax cut.

The Thibodeau-Gideon deal proposes $162 million in additional education funding over the last two-year cycle, but it kills the voter-approved surtax on high income that Republicans oppose. It partially offsets that by raising Maine’s lodging tax from 9 percent to 10.5 percent.

Any budget needs two-thirds approval in both chambers. Thibodeau and Gideon were noncommittal on whether it would pass today, saying some Republicans and Democrats would oppose it. The question is how many.

“There’s still so many challenges still in getting this budget across the line,” Gideon said. “The governor has inserted himself in a way, it seems, almost to make sure we cannot be successful in getting a budget across the line.”

Supporters of the deal are framing it in stark terms: Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said Thursday night that Friday will be “an interesting day” and lawmakers can choose to vote for an “imperfect” budget or vote to “shut down state government with no identified path ahead.”

The final deal was negotiated by Thibodeau and Gideon and that may not help it. It was approved 5-1 by the Legislature’s six-person budget committee, with Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, voting no, saying LePage and House Republicans hadn’t reviewed it.

Senate Democrats — who have been mostly in line with House Democrats — complained too, with Senate Minority Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, saying “we would have liked to have been included in the process through the end because I think our ideas had as much merit as anybody else’s,” but that his caucus doesn’t want a shutdown.

“It doesn’t help, but I don’t think it’s going to be the thing that shuts down a vote in the Senate,” he said.

Thibodeau and Gideon said it was their only option, with the Senate president saying that House Republicans and Senate Democrats were looped in on the final deal before it was presented, but their ideas for additional items would have derailed the package.

Before Thursday’s panel meeting while House Democrats were meeting to discuss the plan, Thibodeau was sitting in his office with his feet on his desk. Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, was on a couch with his shoes off. Katz and Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, the co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, leaned back wearily in recliners.

Thibodeau implored a reporter not to try to go into the Democrats’ meeting, saying Gideon needed the time. Arguably, partisan caucuses are public meetings and House Democrats often let reporters in.

But a spokeswoman didn’t respond to a reporter’s request to go in and another guarded the door. All of it goes to illustrate a difficult balancing act.

It’s unclear when the budget will come to a vote in the House and Senate today. The Office of the Revisor of Statutes was expected to work overnight to get the document written. Both chambers are set to meet at 10 a.m., but the first budget vote in the House shouldn’t be until well after noon.

There will be a lot of nervous waiting. We don’t know where the votes are going to end up. Even if it is approved in both chambers, the Legislature will be waiting on LePage. At that point, he’d have only hours to sign or veto the bill if he wants to avert a shutdown.

“There is still no budget,” said LePage spokesman Peter Steele in a Friday email after a reporter asked for the governor’s comment on the offer. “Once a budget hits his desk, he may have a comment.”

If he sticks to his word, he’ll wait for 10 days and we’ll have a shutdown no matter what the Legislature does. But if a budget never gets to him, it’ll be much harder to blame the governor for a shutdown. Because there’s no better option, embrace the drama. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • If there’s a state shutdown, no protesters will be camping at Capitol Park. One of the memorable scenes from the shutdown in 1991 was the tent city, many of them put up by out-of-work state employees, at the park across the street from the State House. Another camp at that location sprung up in 2011 for the Occupy Maine protests, which prompted members of the Legislative Council at the time to change the rules. The new rules ban overnight use and political signs along with a slew of other activities and require anyone who wants to hold an activity there to secure a permit from the Capitol Police, buy liability insurance and pay a fee and a security deposit. According to Grant Pennoyer, executive director of the Legislative Council, the Maine State Employees Association had a permit to erect some awnings at the site earlier this week and had another application for a possible activity there today which had not been completed as of mid-day Thursday. Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin said there are no permit applications for next week. Not yet. Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins
  • But people will be rallying at the State House today anyway. The Maine State Employees Association, the union representing 80 percent of state workers, are planning to lobby lawmakers in the halls to “demand a fair budget.” Republicans are planning to walk to the State House from the nearby state party headquarters to “urge all legislators to support a fiscally, affordable, taxpayer friendly budget.” — Michael Shepherd 
  • LePage’s veto of a county jail funding bill was rejected by the Legislature on Thursday. LD 463 allows jails to take prisoners — and revenue — from other detention facilities and alters the cap on local spending that was implemented on jails in 2008. LePage vetoed it because he wants either the state or local communities, but not both, funding county jails but that argument fell on mostly deaf ears. The House and Senate overrode the veto 122-17 and 34-0, respectively. — Christopher Cousins
  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin votes for bills to end sanctuary cities and beef up penalties for breaking immigration laws. The No Sanctuary for Criminal Act blocks federal grant funding for any government entity that doesn’t comply with immigration laws and a bill called Kate’s Law increases penalties for unauthorized aliens who reenter the United States after being deported. Poliquin, a Republican representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, said in a written statement that allowing illegal immigration “endangers our communities, puts our men and women in law enforcement at risk and is is unfair to all those who legally immigrate to our country each year.” Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st Congressional District, voted against both measures, which now head to the U.S. Senate. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

Nuthin’ much goin’ on — except that budget thing. Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Fighting to put you in the air on time

It’s about flippin’ time.

If you’ve ever collected dust in an airline terminal waiting for your plane, Maine Citizens for On Time Flights is here for you. The group announced its formation Thursday as part of a national effort to convince Congress to make the air traffic control system control air traffic in a more systematic and on-time way.

So far, the national Citizens for On Time Flights has sent 200,000 airmails, er, I mean emails, to members of congress.

At the Daily Brief, we support the concept and say it should expand. We also need Maine Citizens for Shorter Coffee Shop Waits, Maine Citizens for Making the Driver Ahead GO JUST GO When the Light Turns Green, Mainers for Quick Laundromat Dryers, and Maine Citizens Against Legislative Time.

Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.