How Maine’s legislature can pass a budget and prevent a state shutdown

How Maine’s legislature can pass a budget and prevent a state shutdown

After the Bangor Daily News broke the story on a proposed compromise budget plan last night and then a number of media outlets today reported that the deal was off, I’ve been getting calls and emails asking what’s going on and whether a budget can still be passed and a shutdown averted.

The answer is yes. Here’s how:

First, one part of any budget agreement has increased in importance and must be addressed: the divided court ruling yesterday means Maine must pass a law clarifying that asylum seekers have access to General Assistance, or a thousand families will become homeless on July 1st. This will require language in the budget to guarantee it goes into effect.

This shouldn’t be hard to do. It’s a priority for Democrats and even some of the more conservative members of the Republican caucus, including Scarborough Senator Amy Volk, support the policy. Asylum seekers are lawfully present, so no Republican needs to worry about going back on campaign promises. In fact, the bi-partisan agreement between Senate Republicans and Democrats that was voted out of Appropriations with majority support last week already includes this funding.

With the money there and legal status not an issue, it’s unconscionable for a thousand Maine families to be threatened with homelessness. No legislator should vote for a budget that fails to prevent that from happening.

Second, on the tax side of the equation, I cannot understand why Rep. Ken Fredette is willing to shut down state government in an attempt to give the wealthy more tax breaks that they don’t need. Nor do I understand why Republicans in general, including Fredette and Governor Paul LePage, seem to be fine with raising regressive taxes (sales and property), but want to abolish our only progressive taxes (income and estate). Maine people overwhelmingly support making our tax system fairer and making sure the wealthy pay their fair share.

At the end of the day, however, there is plenty of room to negotiate on taxes. Maine’s tax system is complex, and nearly every change has been on the table at some point.  The Democrats’ Better Deal plan, for one example, showed a way of including income tax cuts that benefited folks in the middle more than the top. The plan leaked to the BDN actually adopted some of that framework, however imperfectly. I didn’t love that plan, but it seemed like a decent starting place for negotiation. It was clearly influenced by both Republican and Democratic ideas.

Rep. Fredette needs to commit to finding a mutually agreeable compromise and stop, as his Republican colleague, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, put it today, throwing “gasoline on the fire.”  That starts with admitting to himself and his caucus that he won’t get everything that he wants.

Despite the current consternation on both sides, it seems completely reasonable to expect a budget deal can be passed that no one will love, but everyone can live with.  I’m sure some on the extreme right still will want to beat up those on the left for continuing to allow immigrants access to General Assistance. Those of us on the left, of course, will work to make it clear who prioritized tax cuts for the rich.

Let’s have that debate in 2016.  I think we will win.  Now is the time to move forward, however, with something everyone can live with, even if no one loves it.  That means Rep. Fredette and his “gang of 68” in the House Republican Caucus need to show some measure of leadership, work across the aisle, and live to fight another day.

Photo credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

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Ben Chin
Ben Chin 6 posts

Ben Chin is the political engagement director for the Maine People's Alliance.

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