AUGUSTA — Recent actions by State House Republicans could be a signal the power of firebrand Republican Gov. Paul LePage is waning as he heads toward the sixth month of his second term.

Last week, Legislative Republican leaders split with LePage on his two-year state budget proposal, rejecting key LePage policy objectives around tax and spending reforms.

On Tuesday, in another blow to LePage, lawmakers overturned with unanimous votes a LePage veto on a bill that allows for the transfer of moose-hunting permits between family members. This follows at least two other veto override votes earlier this year, where Republicans changed their votes to sustain a LePage veto.

While a pattern of Republican caucus opposition to LePage’s policy proposal hasn’t formed, what is clear is LePage’s displeasure with State House Republicans striking their own path on the budget.

Also clear is the desire of Republican legislative leaders to craft a budget agreement with their Democratic rivals that can garner two-thirds support of all the members in the Legislature. That margin is required for a new budget law to be enacted prior to the end of the current fiscal year on June 30 and avoid a state government shutdown.

Lawmakers will also need two-thirds of the lawmakers in the House (101 members) and the Senate (24 members) to override a potential LePage veto of their budget.


Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have taken to chanting the mantra, “failure is not an option.” 

And while LePage was out of state for the Republican Governors Association annual meeting in Texas this week, his press secretary and top spokesperson, Adrienne Bennett, upbraided legislative Republicans for lacking courage.

Bennett reiterated her boss’s apparent popular support based on his re-election results from last November where he pulled down more total votes — about 300,000 — than any governor in state history.

“Again it comes down to courage and it seems like the governor is the only one with a backbone here and has put forward a plan that will benefit the majority,” Bennett told radio host Ric Tyler and George Hale on their show broadcast on WVOM. 

Bennett said LePage realized he wasn’t going to get the budget and tax proposals he wanted from the Legislature, but the proposals being laid out by both Republicans and Democrats were far off the mark of what LePage hoped to achieve.

Republicans last week rolled out a budget proposal rejecting LePage’s plan to increase and expand the state’s sales tax as a way to provide income tax relief.


While the Republican plan does lower the income tax, it doesn’t cut it as quickly or as steeply as LePage has proposed doing.

Republicans also rejected LePage’s proposal to end state revenue-sharing with cities and towns and proposed increasing the state’s sales tax on restaurant meals and hotel lodging to 9 percent. LePage wanted the meals tax to be reduced from 8 percent to 6.5 percent while he keeps the lodging tax where it is.

The Republican plan also does not lower the income tax at the pace LePage wanted and it allows for itemized deductions to continue while LePage wanted to eliminate them.

While Republican lawmakers do stand by LePage on his proposals to eliminate the income tax on military pensions, and appear to meet him halfway on a proposal to end Maine’s inheritance or estate tax by phasing it out over two years, there is little else in the proposal that looks much like what LePage first offered lawmakers in January.

One Republican lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said the veto override Tuesday coupled with the Republicans’ vastly different budget plan were clear signals LePage was quickly becoming “persona non grata” within his own party.

But others, including some key Democrats, said it’s premature to suggest LePage’s sway over State House Republicans is waning. 


And the idea, often suggested by LePage’s former campaign staff, that Republican lawmakers regained the majority in the state Senate and picked up 10 House seats on LePage’s coattails loses credibility when lawmakers note LePage’s re-election bid never focused on increasing and expanding the state’s sales tax as a means of lowering or eliminating the income tax.

LePage has also promised in 2016 to campaign against all lawmakers from either side of the aisle who opposed him on eliminating the state’s income tax. 

And key Republican leaders in the Legislature, including state Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, first won elections in 2010 as they worked to repeal by ballot initiative a sales-tax expansion enacted by Democrats that had yet to go into effect.

Ironically, one key component to LePage’s tax reform proposal to increase and expand the sales tax lives on only in the budget proposal being offered by Democrats. The difference between LePage’s proposal and the Democratic plan is in how they would spend the new revenue from the expanded sales tax.

But Thibodeau has been careful to downplay the differences between the Republican caucus and the governor.

In rolling out the Republican budget proposal last week, Thibodeau also made a point of crediting LePage with starting the debate on lowering the state’s income tax.


Still, the best way to actually do that remains a major point of disagreement between State House Republicans and the governor.

Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, said his caucus remained uninterested in expanding the sales tax in the way LePage and Democrats were suggesting. 

“You turn hairdressers into tax collectors,” Mason said. “You turn the people who plow your driveway into tax collectors. You really turn everyday Mainers who are trying to do everything they can to get by into a tax collector for the government. Frankly, that’s not what Republicans are interested in.”

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