AUGUSTA — House Speaker Sara Gideon said Thursday that she sees no clear path to passing a budget with enough legislative support to avoid a state government shutdown at the end of the month.

Gideon, D-Freeport, said the House Republican caucus refuses to compromise on public school funding or income tax cuts and without their support it would be futile to bring a budget bill to the full Legislature.

But House Minority Leader Ken Fredette said the problem is that Gideon and other lawmakers refuse to work more closely with the governor on a budget plan. The bill needs a two-thirds majority in both bodies to be enacted in time and to overcome a promised veto by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Gideon and five other lawmakers including Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, make up a panel created Tuesday to break a six-month budget impasse largely driven by differences over a voter-approved ballot initiative that added a 3 percent surcharge on household income over $200,000 to raise funds for public schools. The law is meant to ensure the state covers 55 percent of public school costs, a mandate approved by voters in 2001. The surcharge is expected to raise an estimated $320 million over the state’s next two-year budget cycle.

Unlike other budget cycles, the state is not facing a revenue shortfall this year.

Republicans, including LePage, have said the surcharge will cripple Maine’s economy and drive high wage earners out of the state, resulting in less revenue, not more.

Gideon said the surcharge law had compounded an already difficult budget process. While Senate Republicans and House Democrats haven’t agreed on a final deal, the two caucuses were only about $25 million apart on a budget that will likely total more than $7 billion.

Gideon said House Republicans have resisted compromise and largely insisted on LePage’s budget proposal, which would repeal the surcharge, move Maine toward a flat state income tax rate of 5.75 percent and eliminate hundreds of government jobs that have been left unfilled.

Gideon said Democrats would accept $200 million in new school funding and flexibility on how it is raised, leaving open the possibility the surcharge could be repealed. She said Senate Republicans want the surcharge repealed, but identified up to $175 million in existing funds that could be earmarked for education.

“The House Republican caucus is in a completely different place from the rest of us with $50 million for education funding and no willingness to move any further from that place,” Gideon said. “And I don’t know how we possibly negotiate a budget without give and take because there has been a lot of give and take on the part of the other three caucuses so far and we just cannot do it without four caucuses generally participating in that negotiation.”

But Fredette, R-Newport, said his caucus had been iced out of negotiations because Gideon and Thibodeau decided months ago they would not accept LePage’s budget.

Fredette said Thursday that the Legislature could still avoid a government shutdown if it gives LePage a budget he could sign by June 30. He said Gideon and the others could still send a budget to the full Legislature and try to win over House Republicans, but said the caucus favors LePage’s positions.

“People that want to go on a rant about a state government shutdown, the only viability of their rant is because they are unwilling to work with the governor on passing a budget, so that’s their choice,” Fredette said. “They are simply choosing not to vote a budget out, that’s their choice. To try to suggest it’s because of the House Republican caucus is just not accurate.”

House Republicans also say they don’t want spending to exceed the current two-year budget, about $6.9 billion.

Fredette indicated that Gideon may not even have the votes in her own caucus to pass a budget if it would repeal the surcharge or spend less than $325 million on public schools.

Gideon vowed to stay at the State House for as long as it takes to broker a deal, but Fredette said House Republicans want LePage to join the negotiations. House Democrats and Senate Republicans said LePage has made no such overtures.

LePage Thursday did issue a video message on You Tube via the Maine Republican Party urging voters to contact lawmakers.

“Thankfully, sensible House Republicans are asking for a better deal,” LePage says in the message. “Call your representative and ask them to stand strong, ask them to demand a budget that will lower taxes, limit the size of government and put education dollars where they belong in the classroom.”

The state constitution requires lawmakers to pass a balanced budget by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Failure to do so triggers a shutdown of all but essential government services.

It was unclear what the Legislature’s next steps will be.

Lawmakers can vote to extend their session beyond June 21, but would need to get a budget to LePage by Tuesday to allow time for veto override votes.

Correction: This story was updated at 11:47 a.m. on June 16, 2017 to correct the date the current legislative session ends.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

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