AUGUSTA — As lawmakers scramble to finish up this week, not everyone is impressed with what they’ve done.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, pointed out the other day that the 186 members of the Legislature collectively churn out enough warmth from their own bodies to power about 38 homes.

That, he said, “may very well be a more productive use of our energies than anything we accomplish here in government.”

While Brakey is exaggerating, the reality is that legislators have so far come up short on the most important task they face: approving a budget that determines the state’s tax rates and spending.

The past couple of budgets were adopted after much compromise allowed the House and Senate to muster two-thirds majorities for them that could overcome Gov. Paul LePage’s veto.

This time around, though, legislators are having a hard time crafting a spending plan that can secure either the governor’s backing or a large enough majority in each house to enact one without him.

If they can’t pull one together, it’s possible the state will shut down its non-essential services July 1, the start of a new budget year.

It’s bad enough now that LePage said during a Tuesday radio interview that he’s “going to ask the commissioners to take a look at what are the most vital services that are being provided in each agency, and what do we need to do.”

“We are having the lawyers look into what needs to happen if, just in case, they can’t come to an agreement,” LePage said on the Bangor-based WVOM radio.

LePage said he anticipates that lawmakers are “going to try to run the clock out, give me a budget and say, ‘We dare you to veto it.’ ”

“Well, I’m going to tell you something: If it hurts Maine, I am going to veto it. I don’t care if it’s the 11th hour, the 10th hour or tomorrow morning. If it is the wrong thing for Maine, I am going to veto it,” the governor said.

If that happens, he said, the fault will lie with the Legislature.

“I’m not taking the heat for them. If they’re going to mess up the state of Maine, I’m not joining the club,” LePage said. “I’ve got to put my foot down and say enough is enough.”

The governor said a spending plan includes reforms that will help hold spending over the long haul, he will veto it.

A six-member legislative panel is trying to patch together a spending plan that can win enough votes, but it’s come up short so far, unable to reach an agreement that House Republicans will go along with.

LePage met with the members last week in a “not very good” session, he said, and has “no idea” where things stand on the budget deal now.

Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, the House majority leader, said recently that if there is a shutdown, “every Mainer, every community” will feel it.

She said that House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and LePage need to work with Democrats and the Senate GOP “to come to a reasonable compromise so we can keep this state up and running.”

“It is the single most important thing that we are all elected to do, and it’s the responsibility we took when we ran for office,” Herbig said.

The governor said on the radio he’s not going to go along with simply spending more money. He said Maine has “been in disarray and in poverty” for the past 40 years and needs to shift direction.

“We’re trying to move it into the prosperity era,” he said with changes that will ease the tax burden and make government more efficient.

Among the proposals he mentioned were a statewide teachers’ contract, taxing land held in trusts and allowing audits of tree growth management plans by property owners claiming tax credits for the trees.

LePage said the Democrats’ insistence on pursuing a 3 percent income tax surcharge on those earning more than $200,000 annually — an idea approved in a referendum last fall in a bid to pour more money into schools — is holding back a solution.

“If they shut government down, I think Democrats are going take one wallop next year because they are the ones that are hanging onto this 3 percent,” LePage said.

Gov. Paul LePage
AP