AUGUSTA, Maine – Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the $6.7 billion state budget on Monday, scolding lawmakers for rejecting his efforts to overhaul the state's tax code and welfare programs and accusing them of passing a status-quo spending plan just so they can return home for the summer.
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In a scathing four-page letter, LePage said his "bold and comprehensive" budget plan apparently "proved too big a concept for some of the small minds in the Legislature to grasp." He also blasted lawmakers for using the "false threat" of a government shutdown to pass a budget that's "largely devoid of reform."
"In exchange for political expediency, they submitted a budget that fails to provide meaningful tax relief, rolls back welfare reforms and endangers the health and safety of our children, our elderly and our most vulnerable citizens," LePage said.
The Legislature will return Tuesday to try to overturn LePage's budget veto, along with dozens of other vetoes he has issued since lawmakers finished the bulk of their work last week. The measures must earn the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers in each chamber to survive a veto.
Legislative leaders expressed confidence Monday that they have enough votes to ensure that a spending plan is in place by Wednesday to prevent a government shutdown.
"The risk and the prospect of the government shutdown is just not one that people are going to accept or entertain," Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves said on Maine Public Broadcasting Network's "Maine Calling" program.
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LePage's rejection of the spending plan doesn't come as a surprise. He has fiercely criticized lawmakers for filling the two-year spending plan with "pork" instead of funding his priorities. He already used his line item veto power to try to strike out more than $60 million in spending, but the House and Senate swiftly and overwhelmingly overrode each of those vetoes this month without debate.
The budget includes income tax cuts sought by LePage, but he says it doesn't go far enough. Under the plan, the top individual income tax rate would be lowered from 7.95 percent to 7.15 percent, but most of the tax relief would go to the bottom 90 percent of earners. That's paid for in part by keeping the sales tax at 5.5 percent, instead of letting it revert back to 5 percent on July 1.
The spending plan also boosts funding for K-12 education by $80 million over the biennium, maintains state aid to cities and towns at roughly $62 million and doubles the homestead property tax credit to $20,000.
Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond said in a statement: "The Legislature found a way to see beyond our differences and agree on a budget that provides a meaningful tax cut to all Mainers while also investing in our youngest and our oldest, our workers, and our retirees."
LePage charged that the budget is "soft on drug trafficking" because it funds only four additional drug enforcement agents to "hunt down the ruthless out-of-state drug traffickers that are infiltrating our communities and killing our children." He had sought funding for seven additional drug agents and included in his veto message the pictures of people who had been arrested this year for selling drugs in Maine.
The governor has said for weeks that a government shutdown is unnecessary and has submitted a proposed temporary budget to keep state government running while lawmakers continue negotiating a new deal.
But legislative leaders have expressed no interest in such a plan, and Maine's attorney general has said that a temporary budget is not an option. When LePage floated a similar idea in 2013, Attorney General Janet Mills said that Maine's constitution requires a balanced budget and that continuing the current budget would result in an unbalanced spending plan "and throw the state into financial uncertainty."
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