Negotiations on the next two-year state budget were shaken up recently when it was revealed Senate Republicans were working alongside Democratic leaders to craft a compromise.

But we shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, the two groups have at least one thing in common — Gov. Paul LePage apparently doesn’t care what either thinks about his spending proposal.

When the governor released his ambitious, startling budget plan at the beginning of the year, it included a higher and broader sales tax.

That broadsided many of his fellow Republicans, who ran against such a proposal just a few years ago and were unaware of its existence until just before LePage unveiled it publicly.

That planted the seeds for the unlikely accord that would arise between State House adversaries Mark Eves, the Democratic House Speaker, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Thibodeau.

It’s clear now that was a miscalculation on the governor’s part, the first of a few that have put his agenda in peril, and put him on the sidelines.


It also has ended hope for anything more than a status-quo budget. LePage’s Republican allies in the House should realize that there is no longer time to reform the tax code in this budget — there’s only time to avert and state shutdown and avoid doing real harm to the state’s economy and political culture.


It didn’t have to be this way, with the budget coming in late and very likely without any of the transformative measures that appeared promising as recently as early May. In both LePage’s budget and the Democrats’ response, there were clear and creative ideas, and there were opportunities for meaningful debate to end in a compromise that benefits Maine.

In the end, though, LePage’s unwillingness to build and value relationships, and perhaps an inflated idea of the power of his office, poisoned that effort.

First, he underestimated Republican lawmakers’ aversion to any sales tax increase. LePage also underestimated the willingness of those Republicans to break from him, particularly following what he sees as an overwhelming and mandate-giving victory in the election last November.

It’s now clear that Senate Republicans are more concerned with keeping the sales tax down and guarding against local property tax increases than eliminating the income tax.


Given the governor’s plan to lower the income tax by cutting revenue sharing and upping the sales tax, and his general unwillingness to compromise, they saw a deal with the Democrats as the only path to passing a budget.

Given LePage’s past actions and rhetoric against his opposing party, the Democrats saw it the same way.


LePage — who has failed to recognize that despite his stunning victory there are still a lot of Democratic votes and independently thinking Republicans in the State House — responded with a fiery, vindictive press conference. He was dismissive of the Senate Republicans, and he berated the Democrats for playing exactly the kinds of political games that he has made his trademark.

He also threatened to veto all Democrat-sponsored bills, including the budget, until his proposal for a constitutional amendment eliminating the income tax moves forward.

If possible, that has pushed him further to the margins. Because of the priorities at play in the Legislature, LePage’s actions make it more likely the final product will be a veto-proof budget without his two major aims, income tax relief and welfare reform.

After starting what appeared to be a fruitful debate over the future of taxation in Maine, LePage will have little say in the final spending plan.

And we’re left wondering what could have been.

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