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LePage Signs New State Budget Into Law, Ending Shutdown

(WABI)
Published: Jul. 4, 2017 at 7:48 AM EDT
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Maine state government is back open following a shutdown that lasted a little bit more than three full days.

Gov. Paul LePage signed a new state budget into law shortly after 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday.

The move ended an impasse that had hobbled state operations since early Saturday and threatened to do more damage if it persisted past the Independence Day holiday.

Partisan disagreements over a new two-year spending plan were finally resolved late Monday.

The final budget eliminated a proposed 1.5 percent increase to Maine's lodging tax - a hike that represented less than three-tenths of one percent of the entire $7.1 billion package but held up the process for days.

The state's new spending plan also includes more money for Head Start programs and mitigates some proposed cuts to programs in the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Monday night changes to the budget were so trivial, that many around the state house saw the impasse as a clash of egos.

"There was a mess that was created by a certain number of people here," Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon told reporters. "We figured out how to get us out of it, but I wasn't looking for an escape hatch; I was looking for a fix."

Gideon and other Democrats complained about the constantly-changing proposals being presented by House Republicans, who were acting as a proxy for LePage.

Representative Ken Fredette, the House Minority Leader, insisted that his members were simply fighting back against tax hikes and making sure the governor was involved in the process.

Opposition from House Republicans was enough to deny any budget the two-thirds support necessary to move it out of the legislature.

Fredette and his caucus held firm in spite of repeated efforts from Gideon and other Democrats to pick off individual members.

Early Tuesday morning, Fredette talked about the solidarity: "Even though we're coming from all over, different parts of the state and different experiences in our lives, what actually keeps you together is those values of the Republican Party."

It was Republicans in the Senate who, over the past several months, were able to negotiate away a three-percent income tax surcharge on high-income earners that was approved by voters last fall.

The hike was supposed to raise $300 million for public education.

The final budget that passed added $162 million for schools but did so without raising income taxes.

After signing the budget and celebrating with House Republicans, LePage expressed frustration about the new education spending without clearer efforts to find efficiencies.

LePage told reporters, "We emptied the war chest on everything else in this state to take care of education, and we're getting a sub-par system, and now we've got some reforms, and you watch me go the next year. There's going to be some hell to pay in education."

The governor also denied that he had told legislative leaders that he had plans to leave the state whether the budget was done or not.

"People don't listen," LePage said. "I said, 'My pen's on vacation; I have nothing to do.'"

The governor also told reporters that the state payroll will be processed normally this week.

Public employees will be able to use their administrative time to be paid for Monday.

This was Maine's first state government shutdown since 1991.

That shutdown closed state government for 16 days.