AUGUSTA — Budget negotiators were greeted Monday morning with cowbells, chants and signs, as scores of state employees converged on Capitol Park in front of the State House to call on state legislators to end their budget impasse and allow them to go back to work.

“The focus of today is to get our message heard. There is a budget that will be worked today,” Ramona Welton, president of the Maine State Employees Union, said Monday. “We want to let the Senate and the House know that we want to return to work. We want them to pass a responsible compromise budget and get back to work.”

Union members and supporters, clad in purple shirts, marched past the Blaine House, the governor’s residence, before gathering in the Hall of Flags at the State House, accompanied by honks and waves of drivers who were stopped in traffic. More than 150 workers and supporters marched.

Attorney General Janet Mills joined the union marchers.

“There’s no hill to die on. This is a state budget,” Mills said before they left Capitol Park. “It’s critical to all of us. Today I am proud not just to be the attorney general and a constitutional officer, but a state employee.”

Gov. Paul LePage announced Monday that he is allowing state employees to take administrative leave with pay for the day. LePage is also providing state workers who have been designated emergency personnel with compensatory time off for the hours they worked Monday.


Budget negotiators struck a series of late-night deals Sunday that could allow the House and Senate to vote on another spending plan today to end a government shutdown.

But the budget proposal still contains a 1.5 percent increase in Maine’s lodging tax – an inclusion previously opposed by House Republicans that could also prompt LePage to veto the bill or delay reopening government offices.

After a full day of closed-door negotiations, members of the budget committee voted 5-1 to recommend a $7.1 billion budget that features significant concessions on all sides. The bill would repeal the 3 percent tax surcharge on wealthy Mainers – a must-have for Republicans – but seeks to placate Democrats angry about the loss of tax revenue by funneling $162 million to public schools.

“A budget document isn’t a single line. It is a comprehensive document,” Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said before voting to support the budget bill.

House and Senate lawmakers could get another shot Monday at approving the two-year spending plan and thereby ending Maine’s first shutdown in 26 years.

But Republican Rep. Tom Winsor of Norway said he could not urge his House Republican colleagues to support the compromise because of the lodging tax increase, setting the stage for a repeat of last Friday’s votes that triggered the shutdown.


Asked about the bill’s prospects with his House Republicans, Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette declined to comment other than point to Winsor’s solitary vote against the compromise.

“The vote speaks for itself,” Fredette said.

The budget endorsed late Sunday keeps the controversial 1.5 percent lodging tax increase but delays its effective date until Nov. 1. It also would provide back pay to all state employees for the duration of the shutdown. Late Sunday, just prior to the vote by budget conferees, LePage announced that he was taking administrative actions to ensure all employees would be paid on Monday.

Sunday’s late-night votes capped a days-long marathon of tense negotiations aimed first at avoiding a shutdown and then reopening government offices. Last Friday, 60 House Republicans effectively blocked a $7.1 billion budget compromise that had unanimous, although reluctant, support among legislative Democrats and garnered support from 17 of the 18 Senate Republicans.

The shutdown put thousands of state workers temporarily out of work without pay. And tensions have been high at the State House ever since, with unionized state workers chanting “Shame!” and “Do your job!” to House Republican lawmakers as they walked through the hallways.

LePage has pledged to wait a full 10 days to act on any budget that includes a tax increase. And on Sunday, Maine’s unpredictable governor once again inserted himself into fragile negotiations with a Facebook video in which he accused Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of being “controlled by union bosses.” LePage also suggested that Gideon and Thibodeau – a fellow Republican with whom he has a strained relationship – were “not working on behalf of the Maine people.”


“Our government can open tomorrow; it’s just the time for the Legislature to do their job,” LePage said in a video posted on Facebook. “Approve the budget tonight. You have done nothing on Saturday, you have done nothing on Sunday. It is time you go to work now.”

The Facebook video – showing LePage in shorts and a polo shirt inside the Blaine House, the governor’s mansion – was unlikely to help the tense negotiations occurring a few hundred yards away in the State House. And as the shutdown entered its first weekday, state employees were gearing up for a Monday morning rally that is expected to draw a sizable crowd.

The Maine State Employees Association union, which represents many of the state’s 12,000 workers, also planned to formally deliver a grievance to LePage claiming he failed to give the required 10 days notice of impending layoffs.

“As we all know people have been talking about a shutdown for weeks, if not months, including the governor,” Tom Feeley, the union’s general counsel, said Sunday after a LePage staff member declined to accept their first attempt to deliver the grievance.

“This was entirely foreseeable and they failed to give notice. And under the contract, they are liable for damages, including wages and benefits for 10 days from the date of the shutdown.”

Earlier Sunday, a budget conference committee quickly devolved into confusion after House Republicans said they needed to make additional adjustments to the budget changes they proposed Saturday.


The prospect of additional changes – and, therefore, the need for more tweaks to the overall figures – did not sit well with some committee members, who are already blaming House Republicans and LePage for causing the state government shutdown by blocking passage of a $7.1 billion budget compromise late Friday night.

“I have to say that I can barely contain my fury, after receiving information yesterday, that there is still yet more additional information today,” said Gideon, of Freeport, told Fredette, R-Newport. “Nonetheless, our goal here is to finish this and find a way that we can come to an agreement.”

But LePage and House Republicans had balked at the proposed 1.5 percent increase in the lodging tax included in the plan and are also demanding additional changes, including a statewide teacher contract pilot program and steps to allow potential taxation of land trusts. LePage has also threatened to take the full 10 days allowed him under the law to act on any budget that he does not support.

Saturday’s government shutdown is affecting the vast majority of the state’s 12,000 state workers, who are facing an unknown amount of time off without pay.

The impacts on the Maine public has, to date, been fairly small because LePage kept state parks open and other “emergency services” – such as law enforcement, prisons and welfare programs – continue to operate. But lawmakers know that the political situation will likely change dramatically if government offices remain shuttered on Wednesday after what is, for many Mainers, an extended July Fourth holiday weekend.

Fredette said the latest proposal is simply aimed at garnering the 101 votes needed in the 151-seat House to send a budget to LePage for his signature.

“We are trying to be honest brokers … to get us to 101,” Fredette said.



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: