AUGUSTA — Although lawmakers voted Wednesday to give themselves more time to hammer out a state spending plan for the next two years, state workers remain concerned about a possible shutdown of state government on July 1.

Jennifer Neumeyer is one of them. She’s a single parent of a teenage daughter, and her paycheck is essentially the only income they have, other than her late husband’s pre-retirement death benefit.

While Neumeyer, 46, is worried about paying bills and buying food, she knows that her 16-year-old daughter is starting to feel the tension.

“She’s worried for me,” she said. “She’s at an age where she knows what’s going on.”

Neumeyer, who works for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said Wednesday that she’s been asked by co-workers whether she’s heard anything new.

“It’s an easy task to pass a state budget,” she said. “I don’t see what the holdup is.”


On Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage told state agencies to start preparing for a partial shutdown and to identify essential services that would continue operating after June 30 if no budget agreement is reached.

“We are not planning for a shutdown. However, we are preparing just in case the Legislature does not do its job,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Tuesday.

The move by lawmakers Wednesday, the final day of the regularly scheduled session, is not unusual; they have voted to extend the number of days they meet before.

This year, lawmakers have failed so far to reach agreement on, among other things, how to pay for education. Voters in November approved imposing a 3 percent tax surcharge on the income of wealthy state residents to pay for education. Lawmakers have been debating alternatives, but even if they reach an agreement, it’s not clear the governor would sign the budget. LePage has said if the state budget comes in at more than $7 billion, he will veto it.

Without an approved budget by June 30, the state will have no money to pay its workers or its bills.

Jane Gilbert was the director of labor relations for the Maine Department of Transportation in 1991, the last time state government shut down, and she said it seemed to last forever.


In reality, it lasted 16 days.

“I remember two things about that,” said Gilbert, who retired eight years ago, from her Augusta home Wednesday.

One was how panicked and desperate the department’s employees were. Its 1,200 highway workers didn’t earn much money and were essentially living paycheck to paycheck.

The other was that the effect of the shutdown reached past the public sector and into the private sector. All of the state’s road projects were shut down during the busy road construction season, which prompted layoffs at construction companies with state contracts.

While contracts can be lucrative for private companies, area businesses depend on routine spending by state employees.

If state employees have to curtail spending in the event they are not paid, the effect will ripple through their local economies.


David Findlay, a professor of economics at Colby College, said it’s likely that the potential shutdown’s effect might have kicked in already. State workers probably are cutting their spending now to stretch their dollars in anticipation of a gap in their paychecks.

“If there’s a shutdown and it lasts a day, the effects would be minimal,” he said. “If it lasts longer, the effects would be greater and more widespread.”

The state of Maine employs about 12,000 people. In 2016, the state’s payroll was $593,429,264. The state Department of Administrative and Financial Services didn’t respond immediately Wednesday to a request about how many state workers work in Augusta.

“I tell my students that measuring the economy is important,” Findlay said. “But under the numbers, there are faces and lives of people who make up the Maine economy, the U.S. economy and the global economy.”

Gilbert said she also remembers that the uncertainty 26 years ago was tough to take.

“We didn’t know how long the shutdown would last,” Gilbert said. “We made sure that as soon as we could get checks out to people, we did.”


Will Towers, who works at the Maine Correctional Center in South Windham, also worked for the state 26 years ago, and what he remembers is that as an essential employee, he was ordered to work under the threat of being fired. Towers also remembers he waited about seven years before he received his pay for that time.

If state government shuts down this year, Towers said he’s concerned both for the employees who staff round-the-clock facilities such as the state prison and the state mental health facilities and the people they serve.

Towers, who is now president of 2968 of the American Federal State and Municipal Employees Union, said it’s hard enough to recruit and retain people without having to tell them they may have to work without pay for any period of time. If that happens, he said he’s afraid they won’t come to work, and that will be dangerous for the people who work in the facilities.

“I am just afraid that they are not coming to work,” he said. “The potential is really bad.”

George O’Connor, 64, has worked for the state for only 13 years, so he has no experience of living through a shutdown, but he’s been stockpiling advice from longtime state workers who did.

Signing up for unemployment is the first thing, he said.


O’Connor, a mechanic who works in the state Cultural Building, which houses the Maine State Museum, is not immediately concerned about his own prospects. He’s got a machine shop at home and he can calibrate weights and measures. It was going to be his retirement work, but he can do that now, if he needs to.

“It’s nice to think that part of the Maine character is resilience,” O’Connor said.

During the 1998 ice storm, when the power was out for two weeks, a lot of states would have shut down governmental services, but Maine did not.

“We persevered,” he said. “This is not the same kind of resilience you can prepare for in the same way.”

Neumeyer, who lived all over the United States and Europe before returning home to Maine, is thinking about her future. She would like to see an agreement on the budget so she doesn’t have to worry about her job.

Neumeyer is also a member of the Augusta Board of Education.


“I know what I’m talking about when we have to cut positions and we can’t fund things,” she said, but added that she can’t understand why state elected officials can’t craft a spending plan.

“If things like this continue to happen, I might have to reconsider and move out of the state.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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