There are just a few days left for Maine’s legislature to approve a budget in time for it to be vetoed by Governor LePage (a near-certainty) and overridden in order to prevent a state shutdown.
A bipartisan deal has been reached between Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves and Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau. I don’t think it’s a particularly good deal, considering that it includes a constitutional amendment enshrining inequality into our tax system and cuts the estate tax for millionaires (making it rather hypocritical for Democrats to claim, as they do, that they have rejected LePage’s tax breaks for the wealthy) but it could be a lot worse.
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, however, isn’t playing ball. His caucus have dubbed themselves (and I am not making this up) “the gang of 68” and are threatening to blow up the budget.
Why would Fredette and his gang be willing to go against his fellow Republicans and risk all the consequences, both real-world and political, of a government shutdown? That question was answered on Friday when House Republicans finally put forward their budget alternative. In the first paragraph of the letter from the LePage administration’s Mike Allen describing their plan, the context becomes clear. He writes that the proposal is “heavily weighted to the top end.”
The plan is a regressive mix of income tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and sales tax increases and service cuts that primarily target poor and middle class Mainers. They haven’t yet released a distributional analysis of the plan, but a previous, similar Republican proposal would have seen taxes actually increase for 63% of Maine families and the benefits mostly accrue to those at the very top.
So, if you’re wondering what matter of deep principle would require Ken Fredette and House Republicans to take state government to the brink of shutdown, the answer is: giving more tax breaks to rich people.
To say this situation has caused deep divisions among Republicans would be an understatement. Governor LePage and House and Senate Republicans and their supporters are all sniping at each other in press releases, media appearances and robo-calls, branding each other liars and (much worse) liberals.
Conservative columnist Phil Harriman thinks they’re making fools of themselves and Chris Dixon argues that their bickering will cost them the next election. These assessments might be comforting to Democrats, if their squabbling weren’t also about to take the state down with them. All this over their principled stand that the wealthy should pay less in taxes.