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LePage Prepping State Offices For Partial Government Shutdown Amid Budget Conflict

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Photo

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage says he'll begin instructing state agencies to prepare for a partial government shutdown, but he also believes legislative leaders will break the budget stalemate and pass a two-year spending plan before months end.

LePage also appeared to suggest he's prepared to call lawmakers' bluff if they try to wait to send him a budget in an attempt to force him to sign or veto the spending plan before the end of the month.

"The attempt is going to be, run out the clock, give me a budget and say, We dare you to veto it. Well, I'm going to tell you something. If it hurts Maine, I'm going to veto it," LePage told Bangor radio station WVOM on Tuesday. "I don't care if it's the eleventh hour, the tenth hour or tomorrow morning. If it is the wrong thing for Maine, I'm going to veto it."

He added, "I'm not taking the heat for them. If they're going to mess up the state of Maine, I'm not joining the club."

The governor appeared to reference the 10 days he is allowed under law to act on legislation, including budget bills. In the past two budgets, LePage has taken the full 10 days before vetoing the budget. But if he does that now, a partial government shutdown becomes more likely.

The governor told WVOM that he believes legislative leaders are trying to put position the budget so that he's blamed if there's a shutdown. But he says it's Democrats who will "take a wallop" in next year's legislative elections if there is a shutdown. He said that's because they're insisting on keeping a 3 percent surcharge on wealthy Mainers to help fund public education.

The surcharge was passed by voters last year and it's now a key part of the budget discussion. Democrats have already signaled they are willing to reduce the surcharge and increase the income threshold from earnings over $200,000 to $300,000.

The budget negotiations have since shifted to increasing education funding with money that otherwise would have been generated by the surcharge. Republicans and Democrats are also at odds over how much to increase education funding in the two-year spending plan.

Recent statements by Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau suggest the two sides are about $60 million apart. While Gideon and Thibodeau have said the two sides are close, Gideon says House Republicans are mostly sticking with the governor's original budget plan.

Gideon says House Republicans will be needed to enact a budget with the two-thirds support to pass it as an emergency, and likely to override LePage's anticipated veto. It's unclear if there are enough House Republicans to reach the two-thirds threshold. That's led Gideon to blame the impasse on House minority leader Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, for not compromising with the other three caucuses.

Fredette has said that there's still time to work out a deal and that the governor should be a party in negotiations. LePage said Tuesday he's willing to increase education funding, but not without the changes he proposed in his original budget proposal.