Gideon: We have significant work ahead of us

AUGUSTA – Today, the Committee of Conference reconvened to review a new proposal from the House Republican caucus regarding outstanding issues within the 2017-2018 biennial state budget. Work on the budget began in earnest last January, yet House Republicans have spent the past six months unable to determine a position for education funding or accept the results of last November’s referendum. This long-awaited move comes just 8 days before the state budget must be enacted to avoid a government shutdown.

“Democrats are committed to enacting a responsible budget, that works within existing resources,” said Speaker Sara Gideon. “We have been on the record time and time again and been clear that this budget must fully fund the state’s share of public education and provide much needed property tax relief. While I am encouraged the House Republicans finally joined the other three caucuses at the negotiating table – eight days before a final budget must be approved – this proposal falls short of those goals. We have significant work ahead of us.”

Lawmakers, thus far, have been unable to reach a budget agreement that will garner the necessary two-thirds majorities needed to pass a state budget by June 30, 2017. With the deadline fast approaching, pressure to complete the budget is increasing and a disagreement regarding a voter-approved increase in education funding still exists. The remainder of the biennial budget document has largely been determined by work of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee.

“While I appreciate that my colleagues from across the aisle have finally realized that Mainers have demanded that we increase funding to our schools, their proposal is underwhelming,” said Rep. Aaron Frey (D-Bangor). “We are dangerously close to a government shutdown, yet, rather than fully fund education and provide the property tax relief voters demand, the House Republicans are attempting to rehash settled budget lines, and shortchange our schools so they can cut taxes for the wealthy. We have no choice but to remain at the table until we do what right by Mainers.”

In order for the budget to become law by midnight on June 30, Governor LePage must act on the bill before that date by either signing the budget into law or vetoing it, and allowing the legislature an opportunity to override the veto. If the governor decides not to act on the bill and instead holds it for up to the 10 business days the law allows, Maine government would shut down. In 2013 and 2015, the governor waited the full 10 days to veto the budget. He stated as recently as Wednesday that he intends to do so this cycle if his demands are not met.

Work on the biennial budget will continue throughout the next week.