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Shutdown Looming or Not? Maine Gov, Union, Continue War of Words
05/13/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The battle of words continues between Gov. Paul LePage and the union representing state employees. LePage today criticized the union's chief counsel for publicly speculating that the administration is preparing for a government shutdown. LePage last week accused union negotiators of "lying" in a letter to members that says the governor is directing state agencies to prepare for an "inevitable shutdown.'' A.J. Higgins has more.

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Shutdown Looming or Not? Maine Gov, Union, Continu Listen
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The battle of words continues between Gov. Paul LePage and the union representing state employees. LePage today criticized the union's chief counsel for publicly speculating that the administration is preparing for a government shutdown. LePage last week accused union negotiators of "lying" in a letter to members that says the governor is directing state agencies to prepare for an "inevitable shutdown.'' A.J. Higgins has more.

Maine has not experienced a state shutdown in more than 20 years. But tensions are rising between the governor's office and Democrats, who are trying to link repayment of state-owed hospital debt to the expansion of Medicaid.

"Everyone here at the State House has probably, at some point, thought about the consequences of a shutdown," says Adrienne Bennett, the governor's press secretary.

Bennett says that while some in the administration may have privately thought about the potential of a state shutdown in the event the governor's budget proposal is not approved by the Legislature, no one - least of all LePage - had made such a threat.

"There has been absolutely no directive from Gov. LePage about preparedness of a shutdown, or any directive that there will be one," she says. "That's up to the Legislature at this point."

Bennett confirmed that LePage accussed Tim Belcher, the chief counsel for the Maine State Employees Association, of "lying" for spreading fear and misinformation by suggesting that the governor is threatening a shutdown. In a letter dated May 6, union negotiators claimed that executive branch departments and agencies were directed to prepare plans for an inevitable shutdown of all non-essential functions of state government for the month of July.

Belcher confirmed he had discussed the situation with LePage and that the governor had accused him of lying. "I'm not going to get into the gutter about these kinds of trading insults," Belcher says.

But Belcher says the governor's resolve to stand by his budget cuts is a strong indicator that the administration is preparing for an emergency shutdown on July 1, when the new budget cycle is supposed to begin.

"I think after hearing from the governor this morning, my belief is stronger than ever," Belcher says. "What he told us in no uncertain terms was that unless the Democrats vote for his budget, that - in his words - we would have a problem, our members would have a problem. And the implication to me was very clear that there would be a shutdown and that he was prepared to use our members as political leverage."

While the administration has not made a public statement about a potential shutdown, House Republican Leader Ken Fredette acknowledged earlier this year that a shutdown over the budget was possible.



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