State Workers Brace for Government Shutdown

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AUGUSTA, ME. (WABI)- About 200 state workers and concerned citizens flooded the halls of the State House Tuesday.

They rallied in Augusta to demand that lawmakers immediately pass a budget that's fair for all Mainers.

The six member legislative committee tasked with finalizing a state budget met again Tuesday morning to continue negotiations- but they are still no closer to sending a report to the full legislature.

"What do we want?!"
"A fair budget!"
"When do we want it?"
"Now!" shouted protesters.

Protesters chanted outside of caucus meetings and chatted with legislators as they exited committee hearings.

State employees, like Blair Fenning, say there's a great deal of uncertainty about who gets paid and how if the government shutdown comes to fruition.

"Those who are deemed non-essential are going to be locked out of their jobs, so they won't be working. Those deemed essential will be going in, but they won't be getting paid. So it's sort of working for free," said Fenning.

Fenning will be gassing up his car to drive the full 100 mile round trip from Strong to Augusta to continue taking care of patients at the Riverview Psychiatric Center, even in the event of a shutdown.

Considered an essential state worker, Fenning says part of the reason he took this job was for the health benefits that help his disabled wife as well as the stability of a government job. But now he says some of his coworkers are looking for other work to avoid another stressful situation like this.

"Seeing the looks on my coworkers, everybody's talking about it, and everybody is stressed about how difficult it's going to be just to get food, just the necessities because the vast majority of us work check to check and there's nothing else we can do," said Fenning.

Other state workers, like Nickole Wesley, who works as an assistant clerk for the Portland District Court, have been left in the dark as to how a shutdown would affect them.

"They're terrified of not getting a paycheck next week. People that are single parents, that have kids, I work with a lot of them," said Wesley.

While both Republicans and Democrats have moved closer to an agreement, they're struggling to find common ground on how much money goes into education and if the voter-approved surcharge on Maine's wealthiest citizens is used to fund it.

"This is what we normally do in any budget process in terms of picking and choosing priorities. Unfortunately the Democrats don't want to recognize that there are limits in terms of what we believe are true taxpayers ability to pay for state government," said Rep. Ken Fredette, (R) House Minority Leader.

"For House Republicans, they feel like they need to have a signoff from the Governor on whatever they do and at this juncture in the conversation, that is making it incredibly difficult for us to continue to move closer together," said Rep. Sara Gideon, (D) Speaker of the House.

Democrats hope if Governor LePage vetoes whatever budget gets sent to his desk, that he does so immediately so they have the time to vote on an override while there's still time.

Governor LePage has agreed to sign off on the House Republicans' $7.055 billion dollar budget.

The deadline for LePage's signature or legislature approval is Friday at midnight.