With the fireworks — in Augusta and across the state — in the rearview mirror with the passage of the biennial budget and the end of Maine’s surprisingly brief government shutdown, it’s time to take a look at who came away the winners and losers from this battle. There’s no doubt that there was a lot at stake for all involved, from the thousands of state employees who were worried about their livelihoods to politicians worried about their careers. However, amidst all the furor and tumult ricocheting around the Statehouse over the past few days, it’s pretty clear that there were some definite victors in this battle.

First and foremost, Gov. Paul LePage was a big winner here. He not only managed to find a budget that he could sign, but he reasserted his relevance in the legislative process. Last session, legislative leaders worked around him and passed a budget despite his disapproval, fairly easily overriding his veto. This session, he showed that — despite being in the second half of his second term — he wasn’t a lame duck and legislators couldn’t afford to totally disregard him. However, he also showed that he could be a partner in negotiations, rather than just an adversary — which could have major implications in the shorter second session. Not only will there be a supplemental budget coming up, there will be other emergency legislation that requires two-thirds support to pass where Gov. LePage can again insert himself into the process.

House Republicans, despite being the minority party in the larger chamber, managed to come away with a decisive win as well. House Republican Leader Ken Fredette proved himself to be an extremely effective leader this session, keeping his caucus (mostly) together despite enormous pressure — and the best attempts of both Senate Republicans and House Democrats to ignore him. It’s largely thanks to him that we had a short shutdown and a new budget without any tax increases. It was very impressive that he was able to bring the Democrats back to the table so quickly, and extract real concessions from them rather than just swapping out one tax hike for another. House Republicans proved themselves a true force to be reckoned with in the Legislature.

It was the opposite story in the Senate, where Democrats — despite being in the minority by just one vote — seemed content to assent to Senate Republicans’ wishes. It’s easy to forget now, but earlier in the session, 58 Democrats in both chambers pledged not to vote for a budget that didn’t have a “progressive and sustainable funding source to reach 55 percent” of state funding for education. This budget hit the 55 percent mark, but even the very first iteration did away with the 3 percent surcharge to fund it.

It wasn’t just Democrats sitting idly by, though. Senate Republicans got them on board with their budget, but didn’t consult enough with their colleagues in the House. When House Republicans shot the compromise down, they essentially locked the Senate out of the budget negotiations entirely. The action shifted to the House, with the entire Senate repeatedly approving whatever budget came before them almost unanimously (Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, was the sole dissenter willing to vote against this bad deal for Maine). If, before this momentous fight, you didn’t know who any of the Senate leadership was, you aren’t alone — and the shutdown probably didn’t change that. The entire Maine Senate was a loser in this budget battle, reduced to what amounted to mere observer status.

Democrats, as a whole, didn’t fare particularly well in these negotiations, either. While House Speaker Sara Gideon was able to work out a deal with LePage, they not only lost the 3 percent surcharge but weren’t able to pass any tax increases at all. That failure may well drive a significant rift between the progressive base and Democratic leadership in the years to come. Indeed, during the seemingly endless votes on this budget, the progressives in both chambers went along with their leadership on each vote. They either couldn’t or wouldn’t mount a significant challenge (or even a purely symbolic one) of the party line.

At the end of it all, though, the biggest winner wasn’t any politician. The biggest winners were the people of Maine, who will have better-funded schools for their kids without any tax increases. That includes state employees, facing the daunting prospect of weeks (or longer) without pay. Fortunately, a fair agreement was reached more quickly, letting us all move on with our lives.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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