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Revenue-Sharing Funds Key Factor in Maine Budget Override Vote
06/27/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

One factor in the decision by some Republicans in Augusta to separate from Gov. Paul Lepage, and sign on to a compromise budget was a persistent and well-orchestrated lobbying effort by local leaders of Maine's cities and towns. Many of the GOP lawmakers who joined with Democrats to override the governor's veto of the plan had, at one time, served on local town boards, and sympathized with those back home who faced the suspension of $200 million in municipal revenue sharing funds. And some involved in the lobbying effort say the new budget, which cuts revenue sharing by only about $75 million, is nothing to celebrate. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Members of the Maine Mayors Coalition seemed to spend almost as much time at the State House this year as they did at their offices back home. They were joined by the Maine Municipal Association, which helped keep the pressure on. Hundreds of e-mails, phone calls and letters went out urging lawmakers to reject the governor's proposed suspension of municipal revenue sharing funds.

State Sen. Doug Thomas, a Republican from Ripley, says the campaign worked. "The local government officials in the state of Maine are a powerful group, and they didn't want the cuts to revenue sharing to take place," he says. "And who could blame them? They lobbied their side and did it well."

Majority Democrats, with help from Republicans on the Appropriations Committee had originally crafted a compromise budget that reduced LePage's cuts to municipal revenue sharing by $125 million. But it turned out to be a tough sell to rank-and-file GOP lawmakers who didn't like the idea of even a small hike in the sales tax and food and lodging tax.

And when the governor upped the ante by issuing a veto of the plan, Republicans were forced to choose between their party's chief executive and local property taxpayers back home. Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau said it was a tough call, and that the municipal lobbying effort was a factor.

"I think a lot of the municipalities have reached out and said, 'Look, don't reduce revenue sharing.' And we heard that message," Thibodeau says. "And I think that we were all working very hard to make sure that we could restore that. I think that we missed an opportunity to right-size state government and restore that revenue sharing."

For his part, LePage has made clear his disappoinment in many fellow Republicans, particularly those on the Appropriations Committee, who did not come to his aid when Democrats refused to let him address the panel to discuss the budget.

"Not one Republican - not one Republican - said a word," LePage said. "So that told me that the Legislature is clearly a different form of government, a different branch of government, and it's more of country club and get along, then to get along with the executive branch."

But not all Republicans were influenced by the intensive lobbying effort against municipal revenue-sharing cuts. Rep. Deborah Sanderson said Republicans didn't need to be reminded of the importance of keeping property taxes low. And Rep. Stacey Guerin, a Glenburn Republican, said other GOP lawmakers were actually alienated by what they perceived to be a less-than-genuine attempt at influencing votes.

"I think the letters that we got from the towns that came to all of the legislators were kind of canned - you kind of knew they were a script that had come from somebody else who had said: 'Pass this resolve, send it in,'" Guerin says.

For city officials, such as Portland Mayor Mike Brennan and Augusta Mayor Bill Stokes, winning the lobbying battle to defeat the elimination of municipal revenue sharing is less than a complete victory. Brennan says taxpayers across the state will still feel the bite of the $75 million reduction that remains in the budget.

"I think that the Legislature did hear those voices, I think that they were responsive," Brennan says. "But going forward, the situation with revenue sharing still looks a little bleak."

Stokes says municipalities have been coping with reductions to municipal revenue sharing for a decade and received $98 million instead of the $140 million they're entitled to under Maine law.



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