AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- In the State House, the pressure is growing on lawmakers to complete work on a new, two-year state budget.
Lawmakers need to have a new budget in place by June 30 to keep state government running after the current budget runs out. But Legislative leaders say right now the two parties are still far apart on major parts of the new budget.
The key issue so far appears to be on the three percent surtax on higher incomes passed by voters in referendum Question 2 last November. Republicans say they won’t support a budget unless that tax is dropped. Democrats say money from that tax would finally meet the state’s promise of paying 55% of school costs. They say the new budget has to include a major increase in school funding. The surtax law was projected to generate roughly $150 million per year for schools.
Democrats have offered their own alternative budget plan, called the Opportunity Agenda, which includes more than $360 million in added school funding, most of which would presumably be paid for by the 3% surtax.
Democrats this week criticized Republicans for not providing their own plan with which to negotiate, but on Tuesday Senate GOP leader Garrett Mason said the Republicans plan at this point is essentially the proposed budget from Governor LePage, which calls for a tax cut and a range of school policy changes.
"We have a plan, but Democrats don't like it," said Mason.
Democratic Senate leader Troy Jackson said his party wants to negotiate on the budget, but also said education funding will be critical.
"Property tax relief is the number one thing for us, education funding and making that happen is something we’re not gonna do without," said Jackson.
The Appropriations Committee leaders had been hoping to have a final vote on a budget by the end of the month, to allow adequate time for the full Legislature to debate the budget and vote before the June 30 deadline, also leaving Time to deal with any possible veto from the Governor.
The Legislature needs to pass the new budget with a two thirds majority vote, which will require significant support from both parties.