Republican Gov. Paul LePage pledged Wednesday to use his line-item veto power to strike out "several hundred" items in the $6.7 billion budget that lawmakers sent to his desk just after midnight, blasting Democrats and Republicans alike for securing money in the spending plan for their own pet projects instead of funding his priorities.
Holding a pink rubber pen and standing in front a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments featuring the faces of lawmakers who secured funding for what he called "piggy projects," LePage criticized lawmakers for negotiating a budget deal behind closed doors and called on residents to "demand better of their elected officials."
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Line-item vetoes can be overridden with a simple majority vote, but each one will have to be taken up separately — a process that House Democratic Leader Jeff McCabe called a "daunting task" that could keep lawmakers in Augusta much longer than they anticipated.
"For five months they wasted our time. It's time I'm going to waste a little bit of their time," LePage said during Wednesday's impromptu news conference outside his Statehouse office.
Legislators had hoped to wrap up most of their work on Friday, but McCabe said that the hundreds of line-item vetoes in addition to the dozens of other bills that LePage has vetoed this session will force lawmakers to come back next week for override votes. McCabe said that the hundreds of line-item vetoes will likely take each chamber two full days to consider and called LePage's move "unprecedented."
"We have to strategize," McCabe said. "We need to talk to Republican leadership to figure out how we're going to get through this."
Among other things, LePage criticized lawmakers for funding a study within the Department of Transportation to determine the feasibility of expanding passenger rail service to Bangor. LePage wanted more money to be put toward eliminating the wait list for services for people with disabilities, which has been a priority of his since he took office.
"The Maine people have to demand better of their elected officials," LePage said, adding that residents need to know that their government is "corrupt."
LePage's line-item veto of several items in the supplemental budget in 2012 was the first time that a Maine governor had exercised that power since voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing it in 1995.
The governor has until Thursday morning to veto individual budget lines. He can also nix the budget as a whole. He has until June 29 at midnight to do so and has said that he intends to take his time. That means lawmakers would have about 24 hours to override his veto before the deadline of July 1 or state government will shut down.
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