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Maine gov vetoes budget; Democrats vow to override

Alanna Durkin, Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the state's two-year, $6.3 billion state budget Monday, sending the spending plan back to lawmakers who will attempt to override the veto to avoid a government shutdown.

In a statement, the Republican governor said he vetoed the budget for two reasons: because it temporarily raises sales and meals and lodging taxes and cuts more than $18 million from the education budget he proposed.

Democrats criticized LePage's rejection of the bipartisan budget, saying he's putting the state at-risk for a government shutdown if a spending plan is not in place by July 1.

"Today's veto affirms the governor's commitment to shutting the state down if he did not get his budget, his way," said Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. "This is not leadership, and once again, one man is getting in the way of progress for the people of Maine."

LePage had wanted to set aside some education funding for special projects like adult education programs and career and technical education centers.

But the budget passed by lawmakers took out much of that money and instead put more than $30 million over the next two years into a fund that provides money for schools based on things like enrollment numbers and property values.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, called the governor's claim that education funding was being cut "flat wrong," pointing to the overall boost in education funding over the next two years.

But LePage said "throwing more money at administration and overhead merely continues the status quo" and that students would be better served if the money was targeted for the specific programs.

The bipartisan budget adopted by the Legislature would also temporarily increase Maine's 5 percent sales tax by a half-cent and temporarily raise the meals and lodging tax from 7 to 8 percent, which LePage said will hurt Maine's elderly.

"Retired mill workers living on fixed incomes, elderly widows collecting social security, and our veterans who receive nothing more than their military pension — each of them care about this tax increase," LePage said.

Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo, echoed the governor's concerns about the tax increases, saying in a statement that instead of cutting spending the state is "asking the people of Maine for more of their paychecks to pay for oversized government programs."

Democrats said that the increases were designed to avert a steep property tax increases that would result from a two-year suspension of revenue-sharing to Maine municipalities, which LePage had proposed in his original budget. Democrats restored about two-thirds of the cuts to revenue sharing that LePage had proposed.

LePage announced his intention to veto the budget last week and called on lawmakers to put in place a 60-day temporary budget so that they could avoid a government shutdown and negotiate a new budget that doesn't raise taxes.

"I have extended an offer to Legislative leadership that can avoid a shutdown in the near-term and give us time to eliminate these sales, meals, and lodging tax increases," LePage said. "However, while these increases remain in the budget, I cannot support it. Mainers cannot afford it and with them I will stand."

Democrats rejected the governor's idea for a temporary budget fix and vowed to return to the Capitol on Wednesday to override his veto, which would be the first time this session that lawmakers have been able to override a veto of his. The budget originally passed in both chambers with just more than the two-thirds majority that will be necessary to override the veto.

"We are urging our Republican colleagues to stick with the votes that they took and in doing so prevent a state shutdown and prevent a massive property tax increase to Mainers," Eves told reporters after the governor's veto. "We are urging Republicans to stick to the votes that they took."