Empty GOP SeatRepublicans refuse to show up to work, breach trust

“April is the cruelest month” wrote T.S. Eliot.  Indeed.

Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the budget, this April Governor Paul LePage enacted controversial line-item vetoes of the supplemental state budget pertaining to General Assistance and to reimbursements to psychiatric hospitals known as “disproportionate share” funding.  The vetoed items also included funding for a pilot project to assist Mainers in collecting their earned Social Security and veterans’ benefits as well as Medicaid funding for institutional care.

The supplemental budget was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support just before the Legislature recessed in April by a vote of 105-30 in the Maine House and 35-0 in the Maine Senate. The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee unanimously agreed to the budget in March.

Soon after the veto Republican state legislators announced they would not show up to work to consider the governor’s vetoes in the state’s supplemental two-year budget. As a result, the vetoes stand and the $8 million shortfall in the budget for reimbursements to cities and towns will be shifted to property taxpayers.

The veto is the first time a Maine governor has used this power since voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1995 authorizing it. (For background on the line-item veto in Maine click here).

“Republicans have passed the buck to property taxpayers who will now have to foot the bill,” said House Democratic Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono. “Middle class families and small business owners are already struggling to make ends meet. They shouldn’t have to pay the price because Republicans are afraid to stand up to LePage and support the bipartisan budget they voted for just last week.”

“Fear” in fact seems to be the operative word in the Republican camp. Quoting from an editorial entitled “Republicans Fail to Honor Their Word” in the April 22 edition of the Portland Press Herald, “Fear of the governor was clearly more important to these lawmakers than keeping their word. Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the moderate co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said he did not support overriding the veto because he was afraid of what LePage might do. ‘The governor made it clear that if we did override, he would veto the entire budget,’ Rosen said.

“This is a breach of trust and an insult to the bipartisan work of the Appropriations Committee,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the lead House Democrat on the committee. “What incentive do we have to work together when the majority has shown it will simply renege on its agreements? This is an end-run around the process.”

According to the legislative rules, the legislature “shall” reconvene within five days to consider whether to uphold or override a line-item veto.  In order to reconvene after recessing, the Constitution requires the consent of a majority of the members of each political party or at the request of the governor.

Democrats argue the rules clearly state that legislature must reconvene. As of now, the legislature is in recess until May 15.

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