After a day of sometimes acrimonious debate, private negotiations between Gov. Paul LePage and legislative leaders has finally led to an agreement on a state budget, ending the three-day government shutdown.
Gov. Paul LePage signed the more than $7 billion state budget early Tuesday. It includes the elimination of a lodging tax increase that he adamantly opposed. That pleased Rep. Ken Fredette, the House Republican leader from Newport.
“The House Republicans said they would hold firm, that they did not want to see a tax in this budget and they also wanted the governor to be part of this process so that the governor could sit down and sign this budget, which is exactly what he did.”
Democrats got additional funding for Head Start programs and a two-year moratorium on certain rulemaking by the Department of Health and Human Services that would cut some programs - and $162 million for schools.
Rep. Erin Herbig, the House majority leader from Belfast, applauded the agreement's hike in education funding.
“This biennial budget includes the largest increase in education funding in our state’s history," Herbig said. "This significant investment in public education will be felt in every school district across our state and by every child it benefits.”
Once the deal was struck, lawmakers moved swiftly to pass the budget. As LePage signed the bill, to the applause of House Republicans, he said his proposals in the budget to overhaul schools will improve education quality.
But he complained that he had to agree to additional spending for schools he says are not meeting the needs of Maine students. "We paid a $162 million ransom for a phony tax bill and that’s why this lodging tax had to go."
LePage said the citizen’s initiative that put a 3 percent surtax on incomes over $200,000 was illegal because only the Legislature can raise taxes. He said schools are not doing their job of preparing Maine students, and said there will be a cost as he works to implement education reforms in the next year.
”We emptied the war chest on everything else in the state to take care of education and we are getting a sub-par system," he said. "And now we got some reforms, you just watch me go the next year. There is going to be some hell to pay in education.”
House Speaker Sara Gideon, of Freeport, expressed relief that a budget has finally been signed. “It has been a very long and arduous journey to get here," she said, "with the unfortunate aspect of being in a state shutdown for three days. The good news is we have reached an agreement.”
For state workers, who rallied by the hundreds Monday at the state capitol, it will be business as usual come Wednesday. Lawmakers will return later this month to finish their work, which includes a bond package to go out to the voters and any vetoes of legislation by the governor.