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Politics

LePage Heads for Washington as State Shutdown Looms

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Robert F. Bukaty
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Associated Press/file
The Maine State House, seen from Capitol Park in 2010.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is headed to Washington, D.C., as a state budget shutdown looms large back home.
The Trump administration invited the governor to participate in an energy-themed event on Wednesday. LePage's office declined to provide details.
 
The news comes a day after the governor predicted a partial government shutdown come Friday night. LePage and legislative leaders remain deadlocked on a two-year budget, and funding for state government is about to run out.

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Credit Robert F. Bukaty / Maine Public/file
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Maine Public/file
Gov. Paul LePage delivers the State of the State address to the Legislature, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, at the State House in Augusta.

Appearing on Bangor Radio station WVOM Tuesday, LePage blamed Democrats for blocking a budget agreement and accused them of being controlled by labor bosses and the progressive-leaning Maine People’s Alliance. Predicting a partial shutdown this Friday, he said he is already working on a list of essential state workers, including state park staffers, that will be ordered to work.

“State parks stay open because I fear for vandalism, damaged property,” he said. “I take my job very, very seriously.”

LePage said he will also order law enforcement personnel to work even though their pay will be delayed until a budget is actually passed.

“Law enforcement and anything to do that would hurt the properties of the state of Maine I will give preference to. I will also give preference to revenues. So revenue people, you are staying on the job,” he said.

The special budget conference committee met to consider sending the House Republican budget plan, which LePage says he would support, to the legislature for a vote. But Republicans balked at taking a vote without assurances from Democrats that they would support that plan.

Rep. Tom Winsor, a Republican from Norway, told the committee that it made no sense to have a vote if Democrats won’t support the plan.

“Doesn’t make any sense to me unless there is a commitment from the Democratic caucus to support what comes out of this committee to go through that process,” he said.

Bangor Democratic Rep. Aaron Frye, who serves on the committee, asked House Republicans if they wanted a chance to vote for their budget.

“In my understanding Rep. Windsor, what you’re saying is that House Republicans are not ready to vote on what was presented to this committee on Thursday?” he said.

The two top leaders of the Legislature are saying that a budget deal should be reached and put on LePage’s desk this week. They said that if there is a shutdown, it will be because LePage delays either signing or vetoing the plan, and gives the Legislature no time to override that veto.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a Republican, said negotiators are moving close to an agreement.

“I think it would be an absolute shame, a huge disappointment and a travesty to get to a point where there is $40 million separating the two extremes and that we couldn’t find a way to come together,” he said.

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Credit Mal Leary / Maine Public
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Maine Public
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon walks past hundreds of protesting state workers Tuesday on her way to a Democratic caucus.

But no one has put forth a plan to bridge that gap. House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, vowed that action will be taken on a budget.

“We will be voting a budget out this week. Everyone should have that expectation. I hope it will be a budget that can pass on the first round. If it doesn’t, the committee of conference will convene again and again and continue to create budgets until we get our job done,” she said.

Hundreds of state workers lined the halls of the State House leading to where the party caucuses were being held, as well as the third floor, where the House and Senate chambers are located. They held a “Don’t Shut ME Down” barbecue in Capitol Park, reminiscent of the tent city formed there in 1991 during the last state government shutdown.

More protesters are expected every day this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.