AUGUSTA — Democratic leaders rejected a spending package counter-proposal from House Republicans and the LePage administration on Thursday, raising questions about whether several initiatives with bipartisan support will be funded.

On Tuesday night, House Republicans effectively blocked an $18 million supplemental budget because they wanted to earmark a larger share of an anticipated surplus to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The supplemental budget proposal, which had already won initial approval in the Republican-controlled Senate, earmarked $45.5 million for the Rainy Day Fund, versus the $55 million sought by House Republicans.

On Thursday, Republicans presented Democratic leaders with a counter-proposal that would fund largely the same list of initiatives. Those included: providing raises for state-employed law enforcement officers and to employees at two state psychiatric facilities, increasing a reimbursement to MaineCare providers, and providing an additional $2.5 million for county jails.

Republicans declined to provide specifics to the media, but Democrats said the counter-proposal funded the initiatives from sources other than the surplus. But Democratic leaders balked at what they said was an additional Republicans insistence: that lawmakers not vote on dozens of additional spending proposals lingering in the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said that condition was a “non-starter” with his caucus. Instead, they planned to push forward with plans to hold votes on dozens of individual spending proposals, something that Republicans had previously advocated.

“The time for a negotiated package has come and gone,” Eves said late Thursday evening. “We are in the final several days of the session and we are serious that all of those bills get individual votes.”

House Republicans, while declining to provide specifics on their spending package, criticized Democrats for pushing ahead with plans to tap into the budget surplus to pay for the proposals.

“House Republicans have put forward a plan that among other things, provides funding for our county jails, provides pay raises for our law enforcement community and does so only utilizing existing state resources,” House Minority Leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said in a statement. “House Republicans have said from the beginning that we will not support any new spending and our plan keeps that promise. It’s not surprising that the tax and spend liberals in the Maine Legislature would rather add new spending to accomplish essentially the same goals.”

House Republicans have been closely aligned with Gov. Paul LePage on budgetary issues since last year. That alliance has created tensions between House and Senate Republicans as well as between the Democratic caucus.

Holding roll call votes on each individual spending proposal will force lawmakers to go on record either for or against issues that could be important to their constituents. But by rejecting the Republican counter-proposal, Democrats also run the risk of seeing more individual items defeated by LePage’s veto pen.

Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, blamed House Republicans for blocking the bipartisan supplemental spending package earlier this week.

“Without their support for a package, we moved forward to move critical bills individually,” Alfond said in a statement. “After turning their backs on weeks of negotiations, it is unreasonable for the governor and the House Republicans to come in at the last minute with a list of demands. That’s not the way good government works.”


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