WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS COLUMN WHILE DRIVING, OPERATING HEAVY MACHINERY, STANDING ON A CLIFF OR SLURPING HOT SOUP. DUE TO THE THREAT OF BOREDOM-INDUCED CATATONIA, YOU MAY BE AT RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY, DEATH OR EVEN PUBLIC HUMILIATION. I AM NOT KIDDING.
Well, I might be kidding a little. But it’s nearly impossible to explain the technicalities of the state budget process in an entertaining fashion. Even an experienced journalist such as myself requires protective headgear and frequent injections of powerful stimulants to survive the experience intact.
ALSO, CAPITAL LETTERS HELP. LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS.
The budget is different from most bills the Legislature considers because it requires a two-thirds vote of the state House and Senate to pass. There are two reasons for this higher standard.
First, the spending bill for the next two years is usually completed sometime in June, just days before it’s due to go into effect on July 1. Normal legislation passed by simple majorities becomes law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, usually sometime in September. If the budget were approved in that fashion, state government would have to close down for three months. While there might be some positive results from that — we could all take the summer off — the negative consequences outweigh them: state parks closed during tourist season, no licensing for new breweries, poor people starving in the streets. So the budget is approved as an emergency measure by a two-thirbs vote, and takes effeck immediabobly ... consciousness fading … need capidal ledders … CAPITAL LETTERS … QUICK, THROW IN SOME EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! WHEW! THAT WAS CLOSE!
Now, where were we? Oh yes, the second reason the budget requires a super-majority to pass is because of the Paul LePage problem. Maine’s Republican governor and magna cum laude graduate of the Russian Academy of Unpredictable Governance has vetoed every budget passed during his tenure in the Blaine House, even though many of them contained much of what he originally proposed in his own spending plan. To overcome LePage’s automatic antagonism to any variance from his personal dogma, the Legislature is forced to muster a two-thirds vote.
Overcoming these obstacles requires compromise, but that commodity is already in short supply at the State House, where both sides have done their best to assume negotiating positions so extreme as to preclude any movement toward middle ground. This tactic is actually interesting, but like many interesting things — traffic accidents, pornography, Donald Trump — it isn’t very productive.
For instance, legislative Republicans have announced they won’t vote for any budget that contains the 3-percent tax hike on rich people to pay for schools that was approved in a referendum last fall. “We need a budget that won’t bankrupt Maine’s economy,” GOP Senate President Michael Thibodeau told reporters. That measure, backed by the Maine Education Association and other liberal groups, has the full support of Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson has said repealing the increase is the equivalent of giving “a tax break to the wealthiest in the state of Maine.” All the elements are in place for that most mind-numbing consequence of political gamesmanship: the stalemate.
And we’re back to boring.
Further complicating this debate are the intra-party disagreements on this issue. Ooooh, that phrase, “intra-party disagreements.” Growing woozy … must shleep …
SEX! VIOLENCE! FAILED NORTH KOREAN MISSILE LAUNCH!
I’m awake! I’m alert! I promise I’m going to make this as brief as possible.
Senate Republicans are generally amenable to coming up with a substitute for the 3-percent tax. They’ve talked about increasing school spending by some unspecified amount using surplus funds and other magic money. The House GOP says education is already adequately funded, and no additional appropriation is needed.
Democratic leaders have made noises as if they’d accept some changes to the tax measure, such as increasing the level where the surcharge kicks in from $200,000 in annual income to $250,000 or reducing the size of the tax hike from 3 to 2 percent. However, the party’s left wing insists the law must remain intact, exactly as voters approved it.
There may be an intriguing proposal in there somewhere, but my mind’s gotten too foggy to find it. Forehead softening … drooping into eyes …