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Maine Lawmakers' Override Budget Veto, Dealing Gov a Blow
06/26/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

As expected, the Maine Legislature today voted to override Gov. Paul LePage's veto of a state budget compromise. LePage opposed the plan because of tax increases, but many fellow Republicans were more concerned about the potential for a state shutdown. Now, the $6.3 billion budget becomes law over the objections of the governor, who said he had felt let down by GOP lawmakers. A.J. Higgins reports.

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Maine Lawmakers' Override Budget Veto, Dealing Gov Listen

More than 40 of Gov. Paul LePage's vetoes had been sustained by the Maine Legislature - but that ended today with the bang of Senate President Justin Alfond's gavel.

"Twenty-six senators having voted in the affirmative, and nine senators in the negative, and 26 being more than two-thirds of the memebrs present, the veto is overriden," said Alfond.

After a few hours of debate in the House and Senate, the budget was voted into law, with the help of nearly 30 Republicans. The state's budget cycle ends at midnight Sunday, and the failure of two-thirds support for the negotiated plan would have triggered a shutdown of state operations.

State Sen. Dawn Hill, a Cape Neddick Democrat and co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said that despite Republican opposition to new taxes in the compromise budget, the GOP really only had two choices: accept the compromise, or the responsibility for an ensuing shutdown.

"Shutdown - it's really a simple word, and it was too often used this year," she said, "a simple word that has little meaning to some people and yet it strikes fear in the hearts of many others."

Indeed, many of the Republicans who voted for the veto override were clearly concerned about the implications of an impasse.

"A state shutdown is a failure for all of us, there's no question about that," said Rep. Jarrod Crockett, a Republican from Bethel who was originally opposed the compromise plan. Crockett said he couldn't believe he found himself in the position of flipping his vote.

"So if the alternative being June 26th, and next week being July 1st, I'm either voting for a budget that I don't necessarily love, but I know a lot of work and compromise went into, or I can vote for a government shutdown," he said.

But some Republicans were more concerned about the burdens of additional taxes. Rep. Lance Harvel, a Farmington Republican, said Mainers couldn't afford an additional half-cent increase to the sales tax, or a 1 percent increase to the food and lodging tax. And he said no amount of bipartisan agreement wouold change his mind.

"And we talk about bipartisanship, and because we have a unanimous report out of that committee we say, 'Well, it's bipartisan,'" Harvel said. "Well I suggest to you today that if a Democrat and a Republican both reach their hands into my pocket to take my wallet, bipartisan it may be, but the net result is no different."

Democrats, including state Sen. Emily Cain, say opponents of the compromise budget aren't seeing the bigger picture.

"Today is one of those moments where it feels extra tough, it feels extra hard," she said. "But I will tell you with confidence that this vote should be easy, because when you're faced with those moments that seem tough, that seem complicated, what you need to do is do the right thing - and that's a gut check - that's a moment," Cain said.

One floor down from the Maine Senate, the budget's most vocal opponent expressed disappointment once again. "It's a real sad day for the state of Maine," said Gov. LePage.

LePage says he feels let down by Republicans who should have stood up to new taxes. "In the 125th Legislature, I thought we took two steps forward. Today, I think we took three steps backwards."

During a meeting with reporters, LePage said he was so disappointed by the process, he planned to sit down with his family and reassess his plans to seek a second term.


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