State offices in Maine will reopen Wednesday after the three-day government shutdown, but Republicans and Democrats aren’t exactly ready to move on after their contentious battle over the biennial budget.

In the hours after the new $7.1 billion state budget bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage early Tuesday morning, members of both parties rushed to claim victory for ending the impasse while telling voters they had stood strong on the issues that mattered most.

Those included getting state employees back to work, a $162 million increase in public education funds, and elimination of both the 3 percent income-tax surcharge on the state’s wealthiest residents and a 1½ percentage point increase in the lodging tax.

Republicans said LePage “ended the shutdown” and got government “moving again” without raising Maine taxes.

The governor tweeted a message – “I have signed a budget with no tax increase” – and a photo of himself signing the deal amid a gaggle of applauding onlookers. A big American flag is laid out across the conference room table.

“I want to thank legislators for doing the right thing by passing a budget that does not increase taxes on the Maine people,” LePage said in a written statement. “I especially thank the House Republicans for standing strong throughout these very tough budget negotiations to protect Mainers from an unnecessary tax hike. I am pleased to announce state government will reopen.”

Within hours, state agencies such as the Maine Lottery and Department of Labor began announcing plans to resume regular operations Wednesday.

In an interview with the Portland Press Herald early Tuesday, LePage said state employees had not been hurt by the shutdown because they had not lost any pay while it was going on.

“We took a lot of precautions to really not hurt anybody,” he said. However, LePage accused some state workers of keying the cars of Republican lawmakers who held out for a budget bill without tax increases.

“Stop keying cars because that is what they have been doing today, and I find that very, very disconcerting,” LePage told reporters early Tuesday morning after signing the budget. “Shame on you.”

In his statement, LePage suggested it was the elimination of the 1½ point increase in the lodging tax that persuaded him to sign the budget. But in his predawn comments Tuesday, he also talked about the elimination of the 3 percent tax surcharge to raise funds for education as a key issue for him in the budget battle. He referred to the tax as “ransom.”

“We emptied the war chest on everything else in the state to take care of education, and we’re getting a subpar system,” LePage said when asked about funding the $162 million increase in public education spending. “And now we’ve got some reforms. And you watch me over the next year. There’s gonna be some hell to pay in education.”

BOTH SIDES TAKE CREDIT

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said his colleagues “held together to get this done for the people of Maine.” The assistant House minority leader, Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, said, “House Republicans never wavered and stood resolute in our commitment to get a budget done and end this shutdown.”

While Republicans took pride in standing firm, Democrats claimed it was they who ended the shutdown by conceding on issues such as the lodging tax in exchange for getting state employees back to work, securing $4.2 million in additional funding for Head Start and the Maine Clean Elections Fund, and fending off cuts to education funding and behavioral health services.

“Ever since Friday, Senate Democrats have had only one goal: End the manufactured crisis of this shutdown, put Mainers back to work, and keep our state open for business,” said Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “Tonight, we achieved that goal. This budget is not perfect. But with divided government, we were never going to get a budget we loved. In the end, we got a budget we can live with.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett accused LePage and House Republicans of orchestrating a “needless government shutdown” and conducting bad-faith budget negotiations by repeatedly changing their demands. But Democrats refused to let the Republicans use a shutdown to cut education, he said, and “the final budget makes the biggest investment in education in our state’s state history.”

Bartlett said “the worst of the governor’s proposals were successfully blocked and Democrats made gains where possible.”

Early Tuesday, lawmakers voted 147-2 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate to approve a deal that had been weeks in the making amid growing tension and harsh political rhetoric. Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport negotiated a compromise with LePage and Fredette late Monday as both sides tried desperately to find a way to reopen government offices on Wednesday.

LePage signed the budget bill and ended the government shutdown about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

“The shutdown is over, the budget is passed,” LePage told House Republicans. “Go home and get some sleep and enjoy the Fourth of July.”

‘EVERYONE GAVE SOMETHING’

As part of the final deal, Gideon and Democrats agreed to eliminate the 1½ point increase in the lodging tax – something that had become a major sticking point even though it makes up just $21 million of the $7.1 billion budget. In return, Republicans agreed to an extra $1.15 million for Head Start and a two-year moratorium on more reimbursement rate reductions for a behavioral health MaineCare program.

The final budget eliminates the controversial 3 percent tax surcharge on income over $200,000 that voters approved in November to finally achieve 55 percent state funding of public schools. But the $162 million earmarked for education represents one of the largest infusions to public schools in state history.

“I think we made the best of a really poor situation,” Gideon said. “We have a budget where everyone gave something.”

Leaders of the House Republican caucus, which was closely aligned with LePage throughout the budget process, also cheered the bill, after defeating two previous versions. “While no bill is perfect, I think this bill is an excellent compromise,” said Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, one of the House Republican budget negotiators.

The agreement came roughly 10 hours after House Democrats failed to win two-thirds support for an earlier deal during an initial vote Monday. For the rest of the day, Democrats and other supporters of the budget compromise tried to wrangle the additional nine votes needed for passage, while LePage and his House Republican allies tried to pressure Democrats to drop the lodging tax increase.

LePage threatened to hold any budget containing a tax hike for the 10 days allowed by law, which would have extended a government shutdown that had idled thousands of state workers and threatened to cause more noticeable disruptions to average Mainers starting Wednesday. But those dynamics began to shift Monday evening. In a letter to lawmakers, LePage vowed to sign the budget bill if the lodging tax hike was eliminated.

As part of the budget deal, all state employees will be paid for any work hours lost during the shutdown.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH