AUGUSTA — With the Legislature in gridlock over a new state budget, Mainers are facing the prospect of a July 1 shutdown like the one that paralyzed state government 24 years ago.

State parks and beaches were closed or unstaffed during the peak tourism season.

Truckers couldn’t get permits they needed to haul loads, and Mainers who wanted to renew a driver’s license or register a car were out of luck.

Unemployment checks were late, the offices of social service agencies were dark and bars began running out of liquor.

These are some examples of the havoc that played out in July 1991 when state government shut down for more than two weeks after budget negotiations became mired in a political showdown over worker’s compensation.

Now, as Maine lawmakers struggle to extricate themselves from another bitter budget impasse, it remains unclear how a shutdown would play out if negotiators fail to reach a compromise by June 30. That’s largely because the administration of Gov. Paul LePage won’t say what services the state would continue to offer and which would be suspended.


But 24 years later, examples of the disruption caused by the 1991 shutdown – and recollections of those involved in the embarrassing episode – offer lawmakers and the public a glimpse of how Maine might look.

“In a shutdown, neither party is going to win,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who was House speaker in 1991 and a key figure in Maine’s only government shutdown. “Both parties will be blamed and it will make it look like we are incapable of doing our jobs.”

Administration officials insist that a shutdown won’t happen because the governor would offer a temporary solution to avert such a situation.

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, declined to discuss “hypotheticals” about a shutdown Thursday. She said a shutdown would occur only if Democrats in the Legislature allow it to happen – which echoes what Democrats have said about LePage and House Republicans who rebuffed an earlier compromise.

Under Maine law, LePage would have broad discretion to decide which state employees would continue working as “essential” personnel – usually Maine State Police, prison wardens and other public safety officials – and which would be sent home.

“The governor has been clear and consistent about the state’s ability to avoid a shutdown. A shutdown is unnecessary,” Bennett said. “Should a budget not be done in a timely manner, the governor is prepared to offer an interim budget to keep the government open to ensure Maine people will have ongoing access to state services.”


Questions remain, however, about LePage’s ability to offer a temporary or stopgap budget. Attorney General Janet Mills has said Maine cannot offer the type of “continuing resolution” routinely employed by Congress to avoid federal government shutdowns because, unlike at the federal level, Maine’s Constitution and statutes require a balanced budget.

Lawmakers have until June 30 to pass a new two-year budget or agree on another solution. Legislative leaders met again in private Thursday at the State House, a day after talks faltered amid dueling accusations about which party wasn’t negotiating in good faith or truly sitting “at the table.”

But the clock is ticking. Lawmakers say they need to pass a budget by Wednesday or Thursday because LePage has 10 days, not including Sundays, to sign, veto or allow the budget bill to become law without his signature. LePage has repeatedly threatened to veto a budget that doesn’t include broad-based income tax cuts and welfare reforms.

While the politics play out, here’s what may be in store if a shutdown takes place:


In 1991, many Maine residents and businesses were apparently caught off guard by how many things depended on the roughly 10,000 state employees who were furloughed during the 16-day shutdown.


Driver’s licenses, commercial truckers’ hauling permits, vehicle registrations, corporate filings and paperwork needed to complete vehicle financing or auto insurance policies all were delayed during the shutdown.

The current secretary of state, Matt Dunlap, said the “world won’t spin off its axis” if there’s a shutdown, but a lot of Mainers would lose access to a number of state services. At the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which Dunlap’s office oversees, the 13 offices across the state that provide driver’s licenses and renewals would close.

Commercial truckers also could be affected. The state issues commercial licenses as well as international permits that allow Canadian truckers to pass through Maine. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles also oversees the permitting of trucks hauling oversized loads, such as boats or mobile homes.

Dunlap said that such deliveries would likely be delayed during a shutdown because the state is responsible for mapping the routes oversized loads take to ensure they don’t run into utility wires or low bridges.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, had a bird’s-eye view of the disruption as secretary of state in 1991. While Diamond is optimistic there won’t be a repeat, he plans to share his perspective if current negotiations continue to falter.

“If by next Monday they don’t have an agreement, I think you are going to see a lot of different people (outside of leadership) starting to speak up,” Diamond said. “And I feel more responsibility to speak up because I know the extent of the disruption and the everyday people who had their lives turned upside down.”



In 1991, many Mainers, as well as out-of-state visitors, were able to access Maine’s state parks and public beaches – oftentimes for free – during the shutdown.

But they found few, if any, lifeguards, rangers or services in those public parks after the July Fourth holiday. When the shutdown finally ended, park workers were forced to clean up trash and graffiti, restore knocked-down signs, and address other vandalism that took place.

At Popham Beach State Park, a beach manager suggested that a 65-year-old man who died after collapsing could have been helped had lifeguards been there to try to resuscitate the man or call for help, according to news reports.

A spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, John Bott, said Thursday that he could not comment on park staffing under a shutdown scenario and referred questions to the governor’s office.

“The department has faced similar situations in the past,” Bott wrote in an email. “At this point, we do not want to alarm our dedicated employees, who are doing great work to make visits to Maine State Parks and historic sites enjoyable outdoor experiences.”



It’s unclear which services would be affected at the Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s largest agency. The department provides a range of services while administering federal programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides cash benefits to low-income individuals and families, as well as food stamps.

David Sorensen, a DHHS spokesman, said that TANF and food stamp payments would continue during a shutdown. However, it’s unclear if nursing homes, hospitals and other health care facilities would experience delays in reimbursement payments through MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Sorensen did not respond to a specific question about provider payments. He referred all further questions to the governor’s office.

In 1991, only “emergencies” called into a hotline for reporting child abuse and neglect were investigated during the shutdown. Also, Mainers hoping to apply for Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare programs were forced to wait longer for the applications to be reviewed or approved.


During the last shutdown, some Mainers experienced delays in receiving unemployment checks or were forced to wait until offices reopened to apply for unemployment benefits.

Julie Rabinowitz with the Maine Department of Labor wrote in an email Thursday that unemployment checks are no longer mailed. Instead, payments are made via direct deposit into bank accounts or through an electronic benefits card.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler contributed to this report.

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