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LePage Says He'll Veto Budget If It Doesn't Overhaul School Funding Formula

Mal Leary
Maine Public/file
Gov. Paul LePage speaks at an Appropriations Committee hearing at the State House in February.

Gov. Paul LePage says he’ll veto a state budget plan if it includes additional education funding but doesn’t overhaul how that money is distributed.

The governor told Portland radio station WGAN Thursday that the current school funding formula shortchanges students.

“The problem is this: It’s not about more money to education, it’s more money to the classroom,” he said.

LePage’s comments come as state lawmakers joust over meeting the state’s obligation to fund 55 percent of local education costs.

The governor also responded to a proposal by Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau that adds $100 million in education funding. Democrats flatly rejected the proposal, as did LePage and House Republicans.

Democrats say they’ll oppose any spending plan that doesn’t meet the 55 percent threshold. They say a law passed by voters in November that adds a 3 percent surtax to earnings over $200,000 will hit the funding target. But Republicans have vowed to repeal the surtax.

The standoff over education funding is the central sticking point in adoption of a new two-year spending plan. Lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget writing committee are negotiating a new spending plan, but have been unable to reconcile differences on education funding.

Looming is the possibility of a government shutdown if the Legislature cannot enact a new two-year budget by the end of the month.

The political dynamic in the State House is similar to the three previous budget years. Democrats currently control the House and Republicans control the Senate. In the past, leadership in the two chambers have been able to reach a deal on the budget and override LePage’s vetoes.

While that appears to be possible this year, the two sides are at odds over the fate of the education surtax. Meanwhile, House Republicans have taken a stance that aligns with the governor.

A budget deal that survives the governor’s veto will have to win the support of two-thirds of Senate and House.