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GOP joins Democrats to override LePage's budget veto, pass tax hikes

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AUGUSTA – The Maine State Legislature on Wednesday voted to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the $6.3 billion legislative budget.

In the House of Representatives, 114 members voted in favor of overriding the governor, while 34 voted to sustain his veto. In the Senate, the vote fell 26 to 9.

“Let’s be honest, our state government has outgrown our economy and our ability to pay for it,” said Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo) in his floor testimony.

“Absolutely no one in this chamber, nor in the other chamber, nor the governor, is advocating for a state shutdown,” he said. “I think that we have other options. We’ve talked about them here. We’ve seen them in the media. The question is whether or not we’re willing to embrace those options,” he said. “I don’t think anyone was elected with the promise to increase the tax burden in Maine.”

“Let’s make the family budget a priority over the state budget. Right now we’ve got it the other way around,” he said.

In the House, a handful of Republicans offered spirited objections to the Legislature’s budget. GOP lawmakers pointed to questionable spending in the budget, including subsidies for industrial wind, funding for Efficiency Maine, raises for state workers, and free unlimited transportation for methadone treatments.

“We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” said Assistant House Minority Leader Alexander Willette (R-Mapelton). He said the sales tax increase would directly impact small business owners, such as farmers, every time they make the purchases necessary to operate.

Rep. Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) said that just because a budget is the product of bipartisan compromise does not make it good policy.

“If a Democrat and a Republican both stick their hand in my pocket to take money out of my wallet, bipartisan it might be,” said Harvell. “But that doesn’t change the outcome.”

Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-Chelsea) said that while the tax increases were concrete and real, the budget’s promised spending reductions were undefined and may prove illusory.

“There is a $40 million initiative to find exemptions. Well, you must have an idea of what these exemptions are. Are they for middle-class families? Are they for business? No one knows,” said Sanderson. “There is a $30 million initiative for administrative cuts. What agencies and departments does it apply to? We don’t know.”

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette (R-Newport) broke with the governor and the conservative wing of his caucus. He said the question before lawmakers was a zero-sum game: pass the budget or allow a government shutdown.

“Compromise is one of the most revered and reviled words in American politics,” he said. “The choice we have is a shutdown or this budget. There is no plan B.”

Despite voting for a budget that will increase taxes, Fredette said his vote does not amount to an embrace of tax increases.

“With a vote for this budget, we are not endorsing tax increases. We are endorsing compromise,” he said.

The Democrats who testified in favor of overriding the governor’s veto focused on avoiding both a shutdown of state government services. House Majority Leader Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) even read newspaper headlines from the last state shutdown in 1991 under the administration of Gov. John McKernan.

“By overriding this veto, we will mitigate an enormous cost shift to property tax payers and avoid a government shutdown,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo (D-Lewiston), a top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “This is a fair and responsible budget that will keep government open,” she said.

Rep. Benjamin Chipman (U-Portland), who is regarded as being politically left of the Democratic Party, said the problems with the budget began with a $400 million tax cut that was not paid for.

“Now we’re having to raise sales tax and meals and lodging tax… to pay for income tax cuts,” said Chipman.

Rep. Richard S. Malaby (R-Hancock) challenged Chipman’s assertions about income tax cuts, pointing to the latest figures from the Maine Revenue Service. He rejected the notion, invoked frequently over the past several months by Democrats, that the tax cuts passed in the last Legislature created the current budget problems.

“If you look at the numbers, income taxes are the only source of revenue that has gone up,” said Malaby.

The budget, proposed by the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee, contains a 10 percent increase in the sales tax and a 14.3 percent increase in the meals and lodging tax. The tax increases are designed to expire after two years, though there is some doubt as to whether future lawmakers will allow the increases to sunset.

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
serobinson@themainewire.com

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson was the editor of The Maine Wire from 2013 through 2014. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College, and is currently a Producer for The Howie Carr Show in Boston.

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Maine Legislature overrides LePage’s budget veto, passes tax hikes

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