Following secretive, last minute negotiations leading up to the compromise biennial budget, the 127th Legislature saw their budget bill, LD 1019, shot down in a uniquely formatted veto letter by Governor Paul LePage on Monday night. The budget, which was the product of closed door negotiations amongst our state’s top legislators, increases spending by $300 million over the next two years.
On Tuesday morning, Maine legislators quickly voted to override Governor LePage’s veto with little discussion, and enacted their second-rate biennial budget to “avoid government shutdown.”
“Less than 13 hours from now, in my opinion, if we don’t have a state budget I think we are faced with a state shutdown. I’m going to support this budget because I think there are good things in and I think there are some bad things in it. This is divided government, folks. You don’t get everything that you want,” House Minority Leader Ken Fredette told a Bangor Daily news reporter.
However, Fredette and other legislative leaders were at the center of the secret budget negotiations that flew in the face of the principles of open government and the purpose of the Freedom of Access Act. As a coauthor of the hastily put together compromise budget, Fredette helped push it through the legislature without any real consideration of the governor’s veto, despite LePage’s genuine concerns with the budget. This veto, however, was not just a formal objection from the governor. Through his veto, LePage expressed several thoughtful, substantive concerns with the makeshift budget.
The unique veto letter submitted by the governor included images of out-of-state suspects arrested for drug trafficking in Maine, a crying newborn baby, and photos of real Maine families affected by the lack of care their loved ones have received as a result of long waitlists for treatment of our elderly and disabled. The photos correlate with the distinct themes outlined in the letter that, as LePage feels, needed to be better addressed by the 127th Legislature. Those themes include reducing drug use and abuse in an effort to minimize the number drug-addicted births, and improving the care for the most vulnerable Mainers.
Many have made a living over the last half decade criticizing Governor LePage’s politics, rhetoric, and most of all, his supposed abuse of veto authority. The media will likely consider his actions in vetoing the budget as just that. But, this specific veto is the most appropriate objection we’ve seen from our governor to date.
The 127th Legislature gave Maine citizens a proverbial slap in the face with LD 1019, and now they’ve taken every measure to push it through and avoid doing their job. We know the entire legislature put the budget off until the last possible moment, allowing Fredette, Mark Eves, Mike Thibodeau, and Justin Alfond to privately control negotiations behind closed doors, where the public couldn’t see and the rest of Maine lawmakers had no say.
What was the result of their secretive legislating? A budget deal that drastically increases spending, fails in eliminating the income tax, doesn’t go far enough in reforming welfare, and overall, lacks substantial value to the people of Maine. It was a frivolous attempt at lawmaking that doesn’t provide the tools necessary for Maine to see any measurable economic growth over the next two years and simply maintains the status quo.
And better yet, as described in his veto letter, Governor LePage gave legislators an opportunity to reach real negotiations that they failed to utilize. LD 1450 “An Act to Enact an Interim Budget,” would have kept the government operating during budget negotiations had our officials approved it, so all lawmakers could represent their constituencies in the budget making process.
Instead, the 127th Legislature blindly approved a budget that they had no hand in making, a budget that better represents the needs of four top lawmakers than the 1.3 million people of Maine.
Maine legislators ignored the invitation from Governor LePage to create a substantive budget with input from all lawmakers, instead taking the easy way out. The House passed the budget 109-37 and the Senate approved it 25-10, avoiding the hard work necessary to adopt good public policy, and maintaining the poor status quo government that Maine has dealt with for decades.