Budgetary Concerns

Maine Reps. David Webster, D-Freeport, and Margaret Rotundo, D-Lewiston, pore over documents during a work session at the legislature’s Appropriations Committee at the State House in Augusta, Maine, on Monday, June 6, 2011. (Pat Wellenbach | AP)

I would link to my take on the budget compromise from my column last week, but it’s currently not available on the Portland Press Herald site. Here’s a cached version. The gist is that this is not a good budget when you compare the cuts to towns and to health care and education with the tax handouts to the wealthy, but it’s much better than what was proposed by Governor LePage and it’s likely the best we’re going to get in the current climate in Augusta.

After I wrote that, things actually got a little better. Just before the budget was closed, more money was found for health care and as a result many fewer people will suffer the loss of coverage through the Drugs for the Elderly program. Members of the Appropriations Committee on both sides of aisle deserve credit for making that happen.

Now that the budget has passed, we await an official reaction from Governor LePage. He has vowed to veto the legislation, but seems intent on only doing so after taking the ten days he is allotted to consider the bill.

Interestingly, yesterday, LePage’s finance commissioner admitted that they have no “Plan B” if the Legislature fails to override the veto and the state heads towards a government shutdown (a situation he says he doesn’t want to go through again, having been around for the McKernan state shutdown in 1991).

A number of conservative Legislators and interest groups have lined up against the budget compromise and in favor of allowing the veto to stand.

A smaller number of Democrats voted against the compromise, and the loudest anti-budget agitators on the left seem to mostly be town officials who are facing a cut in revenue sharing. This includes Bangor City Councillor Joe Baldacci, who has posted and paid to promote a series of Facebook posts opposing the budget. Some posts now seem to have been taken down, but you can see here how he blames the Democrats for not having done more to repeal the LePage income tax cuts for the wealthy.

In addition to his concerns about Bangor’s finances, Baldacci may have another reason to draw a contrast on the issue: he’s making plans to run for Congress and many of his potential opponents have helped to negotiate or have voted in favor of the budget.

I should note that I don’t recall Baldacci voicing similar concerns when his brother, Governor John Baldacci, insisted on state budgets that cut revenue sharing and other programs while maintaining his corporate tax cuts and refusing to raise other taxes, including on the wealthy. The differences between the Baldacci budgets and this one actually seem to have more to do with scale than philosophy.

While some have predicted a high likelihood of failure for the budget, noting that Republicans have reversed themselves on many previous bills after a LePage veto, I’d argue that this case is different. Legislators went into the initial vote knowing that the Governor would veto the measure and the political costs of flip-flopping and causing a government shutdown would be huge.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald