It’s déjà vu all over again. The state budget continues to be front and center as the calendar tips into July and a government shutdown. Legislators are working away but to little avail. Isn’t this the same story as last week? Yes, it is. Only weirder.
In a flurry of adjectival excess, Gov. Paul LePage lambasted Democrats for currying the favor of “union bosses,” “radical activists” and “extremist environmental organizations.” Despite the governor’s “negotiating in good faith,” Democrats “are still demanding more, more, more.”
How much more? Democrats started out behind the 3 percent surcharge for education funding voted in by the people of Maine last November. Normally, the legislature would support legislation passed by the people in a referendum vote. Not this time.
Republicans cannot abide the surcharge and vowed to find another way to send more dollars to schools. They were not able to come anywhere close to the $320 million raised by the surcharge, nor are they able to guarantee that money found for the upcoming year will reappear for the years after that.
Given that they had the voice of the people on their side, Democrats might have been forgiven for sticking to their guns. But they swallowed hard and offered concessions, reducing the surcharge rate to 1.75 percent and agreeing to less money than the surcharge would raise.
“More, more, more?” It is the governor who began to insert more education policy into the budget, including a statewide teacher contract and consolidation incentives. “More, more, more?” Then he dragged in tax policy, suggesting taxing “rich land trusts and other wealthy nonprofits.” This is hardly a debate that should begin three days before the end of the fiscal year, but the governor smelled leverage and decided to use it.
Senate Republicans, the ones who can’t stand the surcharge, proposed increasing Maine’s lodging tax. Okay, that’s mostly paid by tourists, not residents, so maybe … . But the governor, who included the very same lodging tax increase in his original budget proposal, now flatly rejects the idea.
In case you think Augusta could not get more loony, House Republicans, when offered the opportunity to put their own budget proposal on the floor for a vote, pulled it. Apparently they did not care to be on record voting for a plan that no one else liked, never mind that they created it.
Perhaps the most astonishing statement from the governor’s office was issued June 28. “A shutdown is possible, and Democrats will need to answer why to the Maine people.” What? He is the one refusing to implement the vote of the people in the November election. Answer to the people? The people are gobsmacked.
Further, the governor has said that even if the Legislature can drag this budget beast over the finish line, he will take the full 10 days allowed him to sign it, creating a shutdown entirely unnecessarily. There’s statesmanship for you.
LePage decamped to Washington to talk with President Donald Trump about energy while continuing to hurl brickbats at the Democrats from afar. This does nothing to create the climate of cooperation that is our only hope.
While in D.C., the governor is not missing an opportunity to fan the flames of discord. He issued a statement on June 28 in support of the president’s attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and met with Sen. Susan Collins on the subject.
Collins! Collins! She’s our man! The senator made her stand against a health care bill that was written in secret and scored as a loss of insurance coverage by the Congressional Budget Office. The bill is basically a large cut for wealthy taxpayers and corporations, funded by reducing health care for low income and older Americans, not to mention veterans.
When the U.S. Senate was summoned to the White House to further belabor the health care bill after a prerecess vote was postponed, dissenter Collins was seated right next to the president. The optics were priceless. The front page of the Bangor Daily News showed her with a facial expression suggesting there might be a bad smell in the vicinity.
Our governor, in addition to meeting with Collins, sent her a letter outlining his thoughts on what should be included in a health care bill. Just speculating here, but chances are, the senator, who could run rings around the governor when it comes to understanding the proposal, will take little heed.
It was for Sen. Angus King that he reserved special contempt, advising that “rather than seeking a starring role in Washington’s latest hyper-partisan drama,” by which we presume he meant King’s assigned work on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the senator should “focus his efforts on the Maine people he was elected to represent.”
“Elected to represent?” What part of the governor’s blowing off the people’s November vote demonstrates focusing efforts on the Maine people he was elected to represent? LePage is refusing to sign a budget that implements the will of the people. The Fourth of July is over, but the fireworks linger on.