AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has threatened to sue the state’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee if they do not balance the state budget in the next session.
Speaking to a group of Kiwanis Club members in Dexter on Nov. 15, the governor lamented “gimmicks” used to balance the budget approved by the Legislature in July. LePage vetoed that budget, but the Legislature overrode his veto.
“I’m going to insist that the budget be balanced. The constitution of the state of Maine requires it and it hasn’t been balanced since I’ve been governor,” LePage said, according to the Picataquis Observer. “In January, I’m going to urge (Appropriations) to balance it, and if they don’t, I’m going to sue them in Supreme Court for violating the constitution of the state of Maine. I think it’s time we take a bold move.”
On Wednesday, LePage’s press office confirmed that the governor had threatened to sue the committee, and that he had brought up the idea before. However, Communications Director Peter Steele said he would need to find out whether LePage’s threat was serious, or simply an off-the-cuff comment made in the heat of the moment.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, is co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, and was taken aback when she heard of the governor’s comment.
“The budget that we adopted in July had to be balanced, and it was,” she said. “Usually, it needs to be readjusted at some point because of shortfalls or cost-savings the state hoped to recognize. … If those cost-savings don’t materialize, that’s a shortfall. That’s why the governor has traditionally brought forward a supplemental budget to address any shortfall.”
Maine’s constitution requires the Legislature to pass a balanced budget, which it did in July. However, that budget included savings “placeholders” totaling about $74 million, to be realized by closing tax loopholes and about $34 million in savings to be found in the executive branch by the end of the budget period.
A task force is working on the tax loopholes, while the governor’s Office of Policy and Management put together a plan for the executive branch savings. The savings must be realized by June 30, 2015, when the biennial budget expires.
LePage has said he will not submit a supplemental budget to deal with any fiscal variations that will have occurred between the time the biennial budget was approved in July and the Legislature’s second session, which begins in January.
Rotundo said it was “unheard of” for a governor not to engage the Legislature in a budget update. She also said the governor was “picking a fight with the Legislature instead of bringing people together to find solutions to the problems facing the state.”
The tenor of recent volleys between the legislative and executive branches show just how wide the canyon between the two has become. The governor’s threat comes just a short time after Democratic leadership accused LePage of violating Maine’s constitution with a policy of keeping top administrative chiefs away from legislative committees and panels, opting instead to keep all communication between the two branches of government in writing only.