Maine's Government Shutdown Ends After Budget Deal Reached

By Jennifer Levitz Features Dow Jones Newswires

Maine lawmakers passed a compromise state budget early Tuesday, ending a standoff that caused the state's first government shutdown in 26 years.

Continue Reading Below

After negotiating all of Monday, the third day of the partial government shutdown, lawmakers cheered close to 1 a.m. as they approved a two-year $7.1 billion budget with bipartisan votes. Legislators sent the bill to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who promptly signed it and said the government would resume normal operations.

"The Maine state government shutdown is now over. Happy Fourth of July!" Mr. LePage wrote in a Twitter post.

The budget battle in the Pine Tree State, where the legislature is closely split between Democrats and Republicans, centered on taxes and education.

The compromise budget removed a 1.5% increase in the state's lodging tax that had been the final sticking point for Mr. LePage and House Republicans.

In return, Democratic leaders said they secured an increased investment in Head Start early-childhood programs as well as a moratorium on cuts to reimbursement rates for behavioral health services.

Continue Reading Below

"This unnecessary shutdown needed to come to an end," Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, said in a statement, adding that ultimately, "we were able to close a budget that makes the largest investment in public education in our state's history."

The budget deal also repealed a 3% tax on annual household income above $200,000--as lawmakers had already agreed to do in an early compromise. Voters backed a November referendum on the tax to raise funds for education.

Mr. LePage said in a statement: "I thank legislators for doing the right thing by passing a budget that does not increase taxes on the Maine people."

It has been a contentious budget-making season in many states, and both Maine and New Jersey shut down parts of their governments because lawmakers couldn't reach accords in time for the start of the new fiscal year Saturday. New Jersey's government was poised to reopen Tuesday after Republican Gov. Chris Christie reached a budget deal late Monday with Democratic lawmakers.

During the shutdown in Maine, emergency services continued, as did many other operations, including state parks, unemployment benefits and child welfare.

Still, the standoff led to the temporarily closing of the Maine State Aquarium, half of the state's 36 courthouses, motor-vehicle branches and the lottery--and sidelined thousands of state employees.

Hundreds of the workers marched and protested at the State House on Monday, holding signs--messages included, "Do your job!"--to urge passage of the budget, according to photos posted on Twitter.

Write to Jennifer Levitz at jennifer.levitz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 04, 2017 02:44 ET (06:44 GMT)