Special Budget Panel Advances Last-Minute Deal to Avert State Shutdown

Jun 29, 2017

A special committee voted Thursday 5-1 to advance final elements of a  $7.1 billion two-year budget deal, setting up a dramatic vote Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon both said they hope the proposal will garner enough support to avert a government shutdown before midnight on Friday. But neither seemed overly confident that it will.

 

The proposal adopted by the committee of conference will be added to the spending package already agreed to by the Legislature’s budget committee. The final elements of the deal were hammered out largely behind closed doors and designed to resolve major differences over education spending -- a sticking point that has dogged negotiators for weeks.

 

The proposal unveiled Thursday came just 27 hours before funding for state government runs out. It will now go to the floor of the House and Senate where it will need two-thirds support from each chamber to pass as an emergency measure.

 

A temporary and partial shutdown of government is possible even if that threshold of support is achieved. Gov. Paul LePage will have 10 days to veto or sign the proposal. If he does either after a two-thirds vote, and before midnight, a shutdown will be averted. If he takes even one day to make a decision, there will be a partial shutdown.

 

LePage reiterated Thursday that he will take his full 10 days, even while signaling that he opposed early iterations of the final compromise.

 

All of the final details were not clear Thursday, but the final proposal will raise the lodging tax to 10.5 percent -- a Republican concession -- to increase education funding. In return, Democrats reluctantly agreed to eliminate a 3 percent surcharge on wealthy Mainers that voters passed in November as a way of increasing education funding.

 

The deal attempts to balance competing goals. Republicans vowed to eliminate the education surcharge when the Legislature convened in mid-December.

 

Democrats reluctantly agreed to go along with it, but only if the other side agreed to replace the anticipated surcharge revenue with sustainable education funding.

 

The surcharge is projected to raise over $300 million in additional education funding. The compromise reached Thursday increases education funding by $162 million.

 

How the deal was reached is certain to become a focal point of debate. While all four caucuses were part of the conference committee, Gideon and Thibodeau were largely responsible for the plan that emerged Thursday.

 

Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, a member of the conference committee, said she was troubled by the process and said she and Senate Democrats were largely left out of it. Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, had similar comments, adding that he also believed that the governor’s office was not part of the final negotiations.

 

House Republicans have aligned themselves with the governor in the budget process.

 

Gideon and Thibodeau both acknowledged that neither the deal nor the process were perfect. Both said they received input from the other caucuses.

 

Thibodeau said the final negotiations were necessary to get a budget on the floor for a vote.

 

“We were not willing to let state government grind to a halt without at least giving the legislature a chance to vote on a budget,” he said.