AUGUSTA — Negotiations over the state’s next two-year budget have hit another wall, further raising the prospect that legislative leaders will be unable to resolve their differences and avoid a shutdown of state government.

On Wednesday, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, urged legislative leaders to return to the negotiating table. Thibodeau said talks fell apart Tuesday evening, but he would not provided specifics about what caused the impasse. However, he suggested that efforts to reach a deal had been derailed by political manuvering.

Meanwhile, Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, placed the blame squarely on Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport.

The Republican House leader, backed by Gov. Paul LePage, has led opposition to a bipartisan deal between Senate Republicans and Democratic leaders since it was ratified by the Legislature’s budget committee last weekend. Fredette has said House Republicans can’t support the agreement because it doesn’t contain an income tax cut or welfare reform.

The four legislative leaders have been meeting since last week to resolve the differences.

“There’s been too many press conferences … that have created distractions and just made the process that much more difficult,” Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau said the window of opportunity to avoid the first government shutdown since 1991 was closing fast.

“Folks that work for our state have home mortgages and car payments, too,” he said. “There are people that are receiving services that desperately need those services. We have a responsibility. I’m hoping all four leaders can get together in this office very, very soon. Let’s figure out what we can do together.”

Thibodeau said the four sides were close to deal Tuesday evening that appeased all four leaders, but that negotiations ended abruptly. He wouldn’t provide specifics, saying that he hoped the leaders would resume negotiations Wednesday evening.

Alfond said that Fredette “kept moving the goal posts” and introduced a $20 million spending initiative for the Department of Health and Human Services that deep-sixed the talks. He then said the Republican leader and the governor were continually working to disrupt negotiations.

“It’s crystal clear that Rep. Fredette and the governor are working arm in arm to shut down government,” he said. “The people who care are continuing to negotiate in good faith and remain at the table. Senate Democrats and Republicans and House Democrats are committed to an agreeable solution that reflects our values and helps the people of Maine.”

Fredette was scheduled to have a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the deal between Democrats and Senate Republicans has also hit a snag. That deal included a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate to raise the state’s income tax rate. The amendment, which would need final approval from voters, is supposed to run in tandem with the budget plan.

However, Thibodeau and Alfond both said that the amendment was off the table. That means the orginal budget agreement is unlikely to get the necessary votes to override a veto by the governor or pass as an emergency measure.

The leaders had been meeting to amend the agreement to include an income tax cut paid for with other tax increases. However, that proposal has also received a chilly reception from rank-and-file Democrats whose votes will be needed to pass the budget.

This story will be updated.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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