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Governor's Line Item Vetoes Leave Maine Lawmakers in Quandary
04/17/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Legislative leaders have until Thursday to decide whether to reconvene and address line item vetoes issued by Gov. Paul LePage over the weekend. While Democrats quickly voiced support for returning to the State House for an override vote, Republicans are taking their time in reaching a decision. Some members of the GOP caucus say they support the governor's proposed cuts to local general assistance programs, and to Medicaid spending.

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Governor's Line Item Vetoes Leave Maine Lawmakers Listen
 Duration:
3:50

Nearly 20 years ago, Maine voters approved a constitutional amendment giving the governor line item veto power in the state budget. They also adoped a provision giving the Legislature the authority to override that veto with a simple majority vote. The amendment does not, however, require the Legislature, once adjourned, to reconvene and take a vote. And now Democrats in Augusta are worried that their Republican counterparts might simply hand GOP Gov. Paul LePage a defacto victory.

"The Democrats and Republicans negotiated the budget together, voted it overwhelmingly together and it would be a significant, unprecedented flip-flop if they decided to do that," says Sen. Barry Hobbins, of Saco, the Senate Democratic leader.

Hobbins says LePage is the first governor ever to use the line item veto, and that's taken the Legislature into uncharted waters. The vetoes were issued over the weekend after the Legislature had recessed until May 15.

LePage objected to $6 million in state spending for municipal general assistance programs. The governor says the program is too expensive, and he wanted to cap the housing assistance it provides to 90 days instead of the nine months approved by the Legislature.

LePage also objected to a $3 million Medicaid expenditure that relies on a program that he says is inconsistent with federal law.

According to House and Senate rules, lawmakers have a window of five days to reconvene and respond to the vetos. Hobbins and House Democratic Leader Emily Cain say Democrats are ready to vote for an override. The issue is more complicated for Republicans, says Majority leader Jon Courtney.

"We've been talking throughout the weekend, we haven't done a formal poll, but we've been talking to people to try to assess where everybody is," Courtney says.

If a majority of either the House or Senate Republicans opt to not return for a vote, the then governor's vetoes will stand. And because the process is confidential, the public won't know who favored or opposed reconvening the session.

If the vetoes are sustained, Republican leaders could instruct members of the Appropriations Committee to ressurect the two spending items in an $80 million dollar supplemental package the Legislature will consider in May.

Some Republicans, like Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, an Androscoggin County Republican, say that as elected representatives of the people, lawmakers have an obligation to respond to the governor's line-item veto and either sustain or override this objections.

"I think we need to come back and we need to address the issues," Snowe-Mello says. "I think it's very important that we need to know what's in that budget, and if it is unconstituional, then we need to to support the governor."

House Democratic Leader Emily Cain says the governor's line item vetoes ignore the collaborative process undertaken by members of both parties to reach difficult spending decisions.

"I'd like to see us return, override the veto and then let it be," Cain says. "This was a long bipartisan negotiation and I think to risk the whole budget would be bad for the state of Maine."

For his part, LePage declined to respond to media inquiries about the line item vetoes. But on Sunday, at a Tax Day rally in Lewiston, he was making the Legislature the butt of his jokes. Lepage complained about his inability to work with lawmakers at the State House in a monologue reminiscent of Rodney Dangerfield.

"I'll tell ya, it's really tough being governor--not only do you have to listen to 'em all the time, but you have to sit in oversight of the largest adult day care in the state of Maine," LePage said to laughter and applause.

At air time, House and Senate Republicans were still debating whether they would return for a vote on the vetoes.



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