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Six-Member Budget Panel Remains Deadlocked as State Shutdown Looms

Mal Leary
Maine Public
The six-member committee of conference on the budget meets Thursday at the State House.

The six-member panel charged with breaking the deadlock over the state's next two-year budget has yet to reach a compromise that will avert a government shutdown.

The panel, known as a committee of conference, is still working to reconcile differences over local education funding, how that money is spent and how to generate revenue.

Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon is leading the conference committee.

"I think we're closer together," Gideon said. "I do want to highlight that the difference is significant because it is based on education spending that was passed by a referendum."

There are divisions within the four caucuses of the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate. Three of the caucuses are drawing closer to a compromise with roughly a $60 million spending difference between them.

Democrats say they're willing to reduce the voter approved surcharge on high earners from 3 percent to 1.75 percent, while also increasing the income threshold that triggers it. 

It currently kicks on earnings over $200,000.

Senate Republicans continue to argue that the surcharge should be eliminated, but have also agreed to increase education funding.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz says the state's stable budget and surplus could help close the gap between the Democratic House and the Republican Senate. "And we can do so without having to impose, or continue, a tax in place that, from the perspective of many of us, would really be damaging to Maine's economy."