Gov. LePage says he’ll shut down government out of spite, even if budget agreement reached

Gov. LePage says he’ll shut down government out of spite, even if budget agreement reached

According to lawmakers familiar with a meeting between Governor Paul LePage and House Speaker Sara Gideon held Friday, LePage has declared that if the legislature reaches a budget agreement different from the plan he has advanced along with House Republicans (and which the three other legislative caucuses have rejected), he will delay signing the bill for as long as possible and force Maine state government to shut down.

“Governor LePage told Speaker Gideon today that unless the rest of the legislature goes along with the budget he has concocted with the House Republicans that he will force a government shut down by withholding his veto for ten days,” wrote Appropriations and Financial Affairs House Chair Drew Gattine on Facebook on Friday night.

LePage’s plan, put forward by House Republican leaders last week, would give hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax breaks to the wealthiest two percent of Mainers while dramatically cutting education funding, slashing assistance programs for the poor and increasing property taxes.

If an agreement is reached that has two-thirds support in both chambers this week (still an uncertain prospect), the legislature wouldn’t need LePage’s assent to make it law, but he could gum up the works by delaying his veto. This would force state government to shut down, possibly for a week or longer. This act of pique would have no effect on any spending or policy, but it would harm thousands of state workers and their families, who would not receive their paychecks during the period, as well as Mainers attempting to access routine government services like renewing a drivers license or visiting a state park.

According to Representative Matthea Daughtry, who serves on the Education Committee, LePage also told Gideon that he would leave the state during the shutdown period as part of an attempt to shift blame to the Democrats.

“A shutdown is no laughing matter. All of Maine will be severely impacted over the busy 4th of July holiday. State employees and contractors would immediately stop being paid. State parks would be shuttered,” wrote Daughtry on Facebook. “Unemployment checks and retiree benefits would not be issued. We would be in a state of emergency with only a select few ’emergency’ personnel left on the clock. Thousands would be without work and the state would be crippled at the beginning of our crucial tourist season.”

Maine Republican Party Chair Demi Kouzounas seemed to double down on LePage’s threat in an email sent over the weekend to party members. She accusing Gideon of being “weak” and claimed that “she ran out the clock on herself” by not giving in to Republican budget threats.

The best hope for a budget that avoids or limits a shutdown seems to be a block of House Republicans, with or without the support of their leadership, joining Democrats and Senate Republicans in an agreement and then public pressure forcing the governor to back down from his threat.

“I’m hoping that enough of my Republican colleagues in the House will join Democrats and Senate Republicans and stand up to the governor and his bullying,” wrote Gattine.

A rally to advocate for a fair budget and against a government shutdown is planned for tomorrow at the State House.

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