Lawmakers OK $6.3B budget

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AUGUSTA (AP) — Maine lawmakers are sending a $6.3 billion spending plan to Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s desk where it faces a likely veto because it includes temporary increases of the state sales tax and the meals and lodging tax.

The Democratic-controlled House approved the budget that covers general state services for the two fiscal years that start on July 1 on a bipartisan 102-43 vote. The Senate later endorsed it 25-10.

The budget plan would temporarily increase Maine’s 5 percent sales tax a half-cent and temporarily raise the meals and lodging tax from 7 percent to 8 percent.

Democrats touted it as a compromise that blunts LePage’s proposal to suspend revenue sharing, which cities and municipalities said would lead to property tax hikes.

But LePage has said he will not sign a measure that includes tax increases.

“I don’t see it as politics. I see it as good public policy, and good public policy is good politics,” LePage said in a radio address last week. “I am not worried about the next election. I’m worried about the next generation.”

That means Democrats will have to maintain enough GOP support to get the two-thirds majority necessary to override the governor’s veto before the looming July 1 deadline in order to avoid a government shutdown.

During debate, House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham called it a budget “in which no one gets everything that they wanted at the outset, but we can all leave knowing that we paid our bills and that we have a responsible solution that is a better alternative than what had been proposed.”

With the temporary tax increases, the budget restores about 65 percent of the $200 million LePage proposed to suspend in revenue sharing which Democrats said would put a $400 million tax burden on Maine’s communities and property taxpayers.

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette said he supports the budget plan, which is significant for Democrats who will need Republicans if legislators are to override a potential veto.

Fredette said that while the GOP caucus hates the tax increases included in the spending plan, lawmakers must compromise to complete the budget before the next fiscal year begins.

“Time is now short, and we, the Legislature, must act to protect the hardworking people of Maine,” Fredette said.

But not all Republicans were on board.

“We’ve made our state’s budget a priority over our families’ budget back home,” said Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau of Winterport before the vote in the Senate. “I can’t help but feel that we are asking for folks for a bigger portion of their paycheck,” he said.

Republican Rep. Jeffery Timberlake of Turner said the $6.3 billion price tag was too high and proposed a 1.5 percent cut across the board in every department.

“It’s time that we make government smaller in the state of Maine,” he said.

But Democrats praised the bipartisan work of the Appropriations Committee to come up with a plan to avoid a government shutdown.

“We all knew that failure was not an option for us, that a government shutdown was not an option and that no one wins in a shutdown,” said Rep. Margaret Rotundo, a Lewiston Democrat and House chair of the Appropriations Committee. “And those who think that they can win have never in fact experienced a shutdown.”

2013-06-14 / Maine

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