AUGUSTA — A governor threatening a veto, a slim Republican majority in the Legislature, tight financial deadlines and an upcoming election all fueled political tensions this week over the budget compromise that the state needs to close a $221 million gap.

On Monday, Gov. Paul LePage said he would veto any compromise in the Legislature that doesn’t cut eligibility for MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program. On Tuesday, he suggested that Republicans pass the budget without any Democratic support.

Republican leaders in the Legislature clearly want to avoid either of those possibilities.

“Our hope is that we can get to a two-thirds (majority) budget” that the governor can live with, said House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.

Budgets can be passed with the support of 51 percent of the Legislature. And Republicans could do that, as long as nearly all of them go along.

The Senate has 19 Republicans, 14 Democrats and one independent. The House has 77 Republicans, 72 Democrats and one independent.

The biggest problem with that approach is it will take too long, said Nutting.

Unless a budget has two-thirds support, it won’t go into effect for at least 90 days. And if spending isn’t reduced sooner, the state will begin running short of money in early April — about 60 days, he said.

“The reason we need to do a two-thirds (majority) budget is it becomes law immediately,” Nutting said.

That means the budget needs the support of at least some Democrats.

It also, in effect, means the budget needs to have the support of LePage.

In theory, the Legislature doesn’t need LePage’s blessing. The same two-thirds of the House and Senate that passes the budget could override any veto.

But, in reality, a lot of Republican lawmakers would have a difficult time voting to override their governor’s veto.

Even Democratic leaders such as Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, who would like to see a Republican override know that it’s a long shot.

“There is a two-thirds vote (to approve the budget) and there is overriding the governor’s veto. It’s two different things,” he said.

Underlying all of the negotiations and debate is one other important reason that neither Democrats nor Republicans want to be seen as the reason Maine’s government cannot work together and balance the state’s budget.

“It’s an election cycle year,” said Hobbins.

While LePage won’t face another election until 2014, every legislator who plans on coming back next year will first have to win re-election in the fall. Republicans hope to keep their majorities, while Democrats want to win them back.

“Clearly in an election year, both sides are looking forward to November,” Nutting said.

John Richardson — 620-7016


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