Paul LePage
Maine Gov. Paul LePage has rejoined the stalled and dysfunctional budget process with the state as close as it’s been to a shutdown during his tenure.
AP

AUGUSTA — Five months and 10 days after he floated a two-year budget proposal largely ignored by the Legislature, Gov. Paul LePage has muscled his way back into their stalled and dysfunctional budget process with the state as close as it’s been to a shutdown during his tenure.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said Friday morning that he and three other legislative leaders planned to meet with the Republican governor at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the budget, with the next step in the process resting largely on what they hear from LePage.

It comes one day after an unproductive Thursday meeting of the six-person committee tasked with closing the Legislature’s impasse on education funding, where House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, raised the specter of a shutdown to blast LePage-aligned House Republicans.

“When all these things fail,” she told WCSH, referring to services that could be stopped, “there will be one party who didn’t come to the table to make sure that state government kept functioning.”

While Democrats and Senate Republicans have hedged on initial budget demands during the past week, House Republicans led by Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport have held out to establish a $6.9 billion upper limit on spending and add conservative education reforms to the mix.

Fredette also told reporters that LePage would have to be involved in the budget process, even though the last two budgets in 2013 and 2015 have been crafted with the expectation of a LePage veto.

As the special budget committee was walking away in frustration Thursday evening, LePage released a video through the Maine Republican Party, saying “politicians in Augusta are using the possibility of a state shutdown to pass an irresponsible budget,” while claiming that “sensible Republican House members are asking for a better deal.”

For now, the delay in crafting a budget may have given LePage more power over the final product. That added power derives more from timing than a veto threat, as an emergency budget bill must pass both chambers with two-thirds majorities, which would be enough to override a veto.

On Thursday, the Legislature stumbled past a deadline to vote a budget out of the committee, which means any final budget that gets two-thirds approval in both chambers is now virtually assured to get to LePage’s desk with less than 10 days — the period he can hold a bill before signing or vetoing it — before a shutdown that would come if there is no budget by July 1.

Fredette said the governor is willing to work to avoid that, while Thibodeau said Friday he’s encouraged that LePage is willing to meet and the impasses can be bridge. The Senate leader said “there has to be a deal” and everyone must be more flexible the later the process runs.

“It doesn’t matter whether the deal is done today, tomorrow, next week, June 30 or the middle of July,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how much chaos is involved in the process.”


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