LePage tells Legislature to vote for his budget or there will be a shutdown

Good morning from Augusta, where we think it’s safe to start your government shutdown clock — if you have one — after a Friday meeting between Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature’s top Democrat that has only inflamed partisan tension at the State House.

A Democratic account of that meeting was circulating around Facebook over the weekend, saying the Republican governor told House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, that the only budget proposal he’d sign if passed was the one presented by House Republicans last week.

If that proposal wasn’t adopted, it said LePage told Gideon that he’d take all of the 10 days that he’s allowed to veto it — which would force a shutdown because Maine’s next fiscal year begins on Saturday — and “he will leave the state” and blame a shutdown on Democrats.

“I urge all of you to reach out the Governor’s office, and House Republican leadership, to tell them this is unacceptable,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick. “We were sent here to pass a budget and it’s time for them to stop making threats.”

A Gideon spokeswoman confirmed the account of the meeting, but LePage spokespeople didn’t respond to questions about it sent on Monday morning. But this power play is very believable.

House Republicans pitched their proposal, which would add $125 million in education funding over the last two-year budget cycle and repeal the voter-approved surtax on high earners earmarked for school funding, in tandem with LePage as one that the governor would sign.

However, it got a frosty reception from Democrats when it was presented on Thursday. They’re wary of education reforms that it contains, including a pilot program for a statewide teacher contract that the Democratic-led House defeated in bill form last week.

Before that, Gideon was blaming House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, for not seriously engaging in budget discussions and risking a shutdown, but the Maine Republican Party turned the tables on Gideon with that argument over the weekend.

In an email to supporters, the party blamed Gideon for weak leadership that puts her “on the brink of the greatest leadership failure in Maine in a generation.”

They also noted that 58 rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers have already pledged to oppose any budget that doesn’t have a progressive, sustainable source that enables Maine to fund the voter-mandated threshold of 55 percent of basic education costs. Gideon’s latest counter-offers to Republicans have fallen short of that mark.

One of the leaders of that pledge, Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, said early last week that there are likely 20 House Democrats who would have “questions” about a budget that doesn’t reach that. But he stopped short of saying they would shut the government down over it and faulted House Republicans for holding out.

The blame game over a shutdown is likely to play out for the rest of the week, barring some breakthrough in negotiations. If it goes any longer than that, we’ll actually have a shutdown. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Knox County Dems’ gubernatorial forums lead off this week with Mark Eves. Among the rumored but unconfirmed Democratic gubernatorial candidates is former Speaker of the House Mark Eves of South Berwick. Eves, who during his time in the Legislature was one of Gov. Paul LePage’s chief political enemies, has always been coy about his plans to run for governor but has looked like he’s preparing a bid for the Blaine House since at least last summer, when he held a 10-stop listening tour around Maine even though he had only about six months left in his House term. The chatter around him hasn’t stopped and now, he leads off a schedule of potential candidates who will address the Knox County Democratic Committee. Eves is scheduled to address the group 7 p.m. Thursday at Watts Hall, 170 Main St., Thomaston. Also speaking to the committee between now and Aug. 10 are Betsy Sweet, Patrick Eisenhart and Adam Cote, all of whom have declared their candidacies. — Christopher Cousins
  • New protections for medical marijuana patients who need organ transplants will become Maine law. The bill from Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, was in response to problems faced by Garry Godfrey of Milford, an Alport syndrome patient said he was taken off a kidney transplant list at Maine Medical Center in 2012 because he used medical marijuana. Then, he said he became addicted to prescription pills and attempted suicide before continuing marijuana use, which he told a legislative committee allowed him to function daily. Sanderson’s bill will prohibit transplant evaluators from finding a patient unsuitable for a transplant solely because of marijuana use. Paul McCarrier, the president of Legalize Maine, a group of small medical marijuana producers, said on Friday that LePage allowed the bill to become law without his signature last week. — Michael Shepherd
  • LePage now controls the fate of a bill to restore Maine’s tip credit. The issue has been under debate since January — or really, since voters approved Maine’s minimum wage law in November 2016 — and finally came to a conclusion last week. Maybe. Last week, the House and Senate enacted a version of the bill unanimously after earlier votes of 110-37 and 23-12, respectively. The tip credit allows employers to pay tipped workers less than the minimum hourly wage, based on the premise that tips would elevate their earnings to at least the minimum hourly wage. Critics of the 2016 ballot question that eliminated the tip credit and applied the hourly minimum wage to all workers say it adds costs to employers already working with tight margins, forcing them to hire fewer people or cut benefits. LePage has 10 days, beginning last Thursday, to sign the bill, veto it, or let it go into law without his signature. The governor has boisterously supported reinstating the tip credit, but supporters in the Legislature failed to muster a two-thirds majority in the Senate to enact the bill as an emergency measure, meaning it now would not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. That will be too late for some tourism industry employers who had hoped the change could be in place during their busy summer season. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate do not return until Tuesday, and the committee calendar is bare. Other than trying to simultaneously avoid and prepare for a government shutdown, State House denizens appear to have a quiet day on tap.

It’s unclear whether the special budget committee will meet today. If they did, it would likely reflect some semblance of progress. We don’t expect to see them until late afternoon or the evening, if at all on Monday. — Robert Long and Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Maine needs a Ministry of Magic

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” the first of J.K. Rowling’s iconic seven-part series of novels about a child wizard and his freaky, magical pals. The title was changed to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” when the book was released in the United States, as the publisher figured we Yanks would not buy a book with “philosopher” in the title.

The Potter series became an international sensation, and is widely credited with inspiring a new generation of readers. It’s certainly more entertaining than reading legislative sentiments. I covered a midnight release of the fourth book in Brunswick, in which hundreds of kids and their parents — many with temporary lightning bolt forehead tattoos or other embarrassing wizarding paraphernalia —  stormed a bookstore in the middle of the night to seize their copies. I also chaperoned a read-athon the night the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” was released. I fell asleep while two dozen kids, while locked in a library, tore through more than 700 pages to find out what became of the characters with whom they had grown up.

The anniversary sparked some conversation among the Daily Brief crew about which Maine political figures most resemble characters from Harry Potter. We came up with a decent list, although we were not unanimous in our choices. During these contentious times, Maine has quite a few Voldemort wannabes. Certain political leaders could be either the spunky Hermione Granger or the diabolical Dolores Umbridge, depending on which side of the aisle you sit.

And we’ll just sidestep discussions about which Maine politicians belong in the Weasley family. The one clear pick is our own Michael Shepherd as the Harry Potter of Maine politics. And there is strong consensus for Christopher Cousins as the friendly giant Hagrid of Maine politics. We invite you to share your suggestions at politics@bangordailynews.com.

Here’s your soundtrack, but it will cost you if you want us to share the spell that will get it out of your head. –– Robert Long

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.