On Thursday, LePage again turned up the heat by going public about his displeasure with the state Senate’s Republican majority leadership.

During an hourlong radio chat Thursday morning, LePage blasted Senate Republicans, again accusing them of siding with House Democrats in stymieing his efforts to lower and eventually eliminate Maine’s income tax.

“The conflict is this,” LePage told WGAN talk radio hosts Thursday morning. “Somebody made the comment that I said, ‘My way or the highway,’ which was fabricated by the speaker of the House and I find it very upsetting because that has never been the case.”

LePage said his door was open and has been but so far, neither Democrats who hold the majority in the House or Senate Republicans who hold the majority in that body, have been willing to bargain with him.

On the line is a more than $6 billion, two-year spending plan that must be put into law by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown.

The last time lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal that resulted in a shutdown was in 1991 under Republican Gov. John McKernan.

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The disagreement that year was over reforms Republicans wanted to make to the state’s workers’ compensation system. This year, lawmakers say the stalemate is being driven by a divide over how much the state can afford to cut taxes and whom those cuts should most benefit.

Many lawmakers have said the current crisis is a fabrication of pure politics driven by ideological policy divides given that state government is operating with funding surpluses and there is no apparent fiscal crisis.

Backing LePage is state Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, the House minority leader, who has said his caucus is intent on keeping its campaign promises to lower the state’s income tax.

And LePage, who has been largely cut out of the budget talks, is expected to veto any budget bill the Legislature produces unless the negotiations take a drastic turn.

LePage said again Thursday he is pushing lawmakers to simply give Maine voters a chance to weigh in on the income tax during a statewide ballot vote this November. LePage promised Lisbon residents earlier in the week he would personally lead the drive to gather signatures for a ballot measure if the Legislature wouldn’t put the question to voters.

But at least some House Republicans on Thursday seemed to be shifting their rhetoric away from demands for a tax cut and focusing on welfare reform proposals aimed at ending state and locally funded General Assistance support for asylum-seeking immigrants.

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And while the state funds spent on that line of the budget amount to a sliver, about $12 million a year, Republicans say it’s a matter of principle and seem poised to bring government to a halt to make their point.

On Sunday, Senate Republicans and Democrats announced they had forged a deal on the budget, a compromise that scuttled income tax reforms, which LePage and both parties have been working on for months.

Since Sunday, the focus has been on House Republicans and whether they would hold together to thwart the deal by voting to sustain an all-but-certain veto from LePage.

Under the state constitution, lawmakers need a two-thirds vote to enact the measure as an emergency bill because it would have to go into effect nearly immediately; they also need two-thirds support to override LePage’s expected veto.

Of the three major taxes in Maine that support the majority of government services — from public schools to social support programs — the income tax is the most reliable for generating revenue for state government.

That’s because the property tax is collected and spent at the local level and collections from sales tax — with its many exemptions — are unpredictable, hinged to the general economy and reduced in tough economic times when consumers aren’t purchasing big-ticket items like cars and construction materials.

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On Thursday, lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee were kept waiting throughout the day while top party leaders, including state Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, talked in a series of closed-door meetings.

Both men left most of their official duties to their top deputies with House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, running the show in their respective chambers.

Also negotiating with Eves and others behind the scenes was Fredette, but by early evening a spokeswoman for Eves said there was no major breakthrough to announce.

“Leadership is in control,” said state Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford. “I’m on a blackout.” Hamper is the Senate chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

State Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House co-chairwoman of the committee, echoed Hamper’s assessment.

“I don’t know what’s being negotiated by the leadership,” Rotundo said. At about 6 p.m., Hamper convened the committee briefly only to announce that committee members should pack it in for the evening and head home.

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Processing the budget bill, often a more than 1,000-page document, can take up to a week once the committee votes to approve the package. The governor then has 10 days to consider the bill and decide whether to veto it, sign it or allow it to become law without his signature. Earlier in the week, legislative leaders said the bill had to be passed by June 7 or 8.

Talks are expected to continue throughout the day and evening Friday and through the weekend, if necessary.

Eves reiterated the pressure of the ticking legislative clock Wednesday when he told State House reporters, “We’re out of time.”

Christopher Cousins, State House bureau chief for the Bangor Daily News, contributed to this report.

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