AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine lawmakers overturned Republican Gov. Paul LePage's veto of the state budget on Tuesday, passing into law a spending plan that will cut taxes for many residents, fund additional drug enforcement agents and maintain state aid for cities and towns.
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The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted 109-37 to approve the budget over the governor's objections just hours before a potential state government shutdown. The Republican-led Senate followed with a 25-10 vote. The budget will go into effect Wednesday.
The budget debate revealed deep divisions among Republicans in the House, as many urged their colleagues to reject the spending plan and fight for deeper tax cuts and more money for services for the elderly and disabled. Others, like House Republican leader Ken Fredette, said that although the budget isn't perfect, it's the best deal his party could hope for in divided government.
"This is divided government, folks," Fredette said. "You don't get everything you want."
The two-year budget will cut the top individual income tax rate from 7.95 percent to 7.15 percent and keep the sales tax at 5.5 percent, instead of reverting it back to 5 percent in July. Maine residents will see a net tax cut of $135.4 million in 2017 when all the changes to the tax code are taken into account. Roughly 580,000 families will have their taxes reduced, but — as several opponents noted — another 120,000 will see their taxes go up, according to the state's fiscal analysts.
LePage blasted lawmakers in a scathing four-page veto letter Monday and accused them of using the "false threat" of a government shutdown to pass a budget largely devoid of any of the reforms he proposed. He had sought to put in place a temporary budget to buy lawmakers more time to negotiate a better deal, but Attorney General Janet Mills has said that wouldn't be legal.
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During a rally Tuesday where his supporters urged lawmakers to sustain his veto, LePage pledged to continue fighting for his priorities of lower taxes and reduced welfare rolls.
"I was elected to stand up for the people of Maine. You are the people of Maine and I'm going to work for you with every ounce of blood and breath I have in my body," LePage said.
Several Republicans, like Rep. Deb Sanderson, criticized the plan for not putting more money toward helping disabled Mainers who continue to languish on waiting lists for services.
"What about the needs of the citizens in this state who are not getting care?" Sanderson said.
But Democrats praised the measure that will pump $80 million more into K-12 education over the two years and boosting property tax relief by doubling the popular homestead tax credit program to $20,000. The measure also increases funding for nursing homes by $16 million, eliminates the tax on military pensions, keeps revenue sharing at roughly $62 million a year and funds four new Maine Drug Enforcement Agency positions to help with the state's anti-drug efforts.
Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves called the budget a "win" for middle-class families, seniors, students and workers.
"The bipartisan override vote is a rejection of the obstruction and shutdown politics," he said.
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