AUGUSTA, Maine — With fewer than 13 hours to go before the end of the state’s fiscal year, the Legislature on Tuesday morning stepped away from the precipice of a government shutdown by overriding Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the $6.7 billion state budget.
The House voted 109-37 vote to override the veto, followed quickly by a Senate vote, without debate, 25-10 in favor of the budget.
The House held a half-hour of debate between lawmakers who believed the budget bill is as good as it could be considering Maine’s divided government and those who say the process was as flawed as the priorities outlined in the budget. There was disagreement about whether sustaining LePage’s veto would shut down state government.
“I urge you all, vote no,” said Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea. “We have a tool available to us to pass an interim budget. We do not have to shut state government down if we do not vote to pass this budget today. … To say we are going to shut state government down if we don’t pass this budget, that’s what I hear as a false choice.”
Among those who disagreed with Sanderson was House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport.
“Less than 13 hours from now, in my opinion, if we don’t have a state budget I think we are faced with a state shutdown,” said Fredette. “I’m going to support this budget because I think there are good things in it and I think there are some bad things in it. This is divided government, folks. You don’t get everything that you want.”
Several Republican lawmakers voted against the budget because it doesn’t include enough money to eliminate waitlists for certain services for the elderly and developmentally disabled. But some, including Rep. Gina Melaragno, D-Auburn, said they saw hypocrisy in that position.
“There were certain folks in this room that fought hard to reduce the taxes of the wealthiest in this state — they fought hard and they got a lot of that,” said Melaragno. “Let’s remember when we talk about the neediest people in our state that there were certain people that fought really hard to get the tax breaks for the wealthiest in our state, while talking out of the other side of their mouth saying they care for needy people, so let’s keep that in mind as well.”
Others objected to the process that led to the budget agreement, which involved legislative leaders negotiating the compromise after vast disagreement on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, called House Speaker Mark Eves out by name for his handling of budget negotiations.
“I would have hoped and wished that when the votes started coming out of the Appropriations Committee at 9-4 that we’d have had a timeout,” said Timberlake, who was one of the budget committee members voting in the minority. “I’m very disgruntled over what is happening here today. … I only wish that in your leadership and in your tenure here, Mr. Speaker, that in that process you would have called a timeout sooner.”
Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said passage of the state budget and avoidance of a government shutdown was essentially a victory for the process.
“This is not a perfect document,” he said in a written statement. “Rather, it is the product of divided government in which no one gets everything they want, but everyone gets some of what they want.”
The Legislature also overrode a LePage veto of the Highway Fund budget, which supports the Department of Transportation and a range of infrastructure maintenance programs. The vote to override the veto was 143-0 in the House and 34-1 in favor in the Senate.