By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) – Maine Governor Paul LePage warned residents on Tuesday that parts of the state’s government could shut down as soon as Friday if lawmakers are unable to reach an agreement on the next two-year budget of roughly $7 billion.
The second-term Republican said he would ensure that the state continues to collect taxes, police will still patrol and state parks will remain open through the Independence Day holiday weekend. But he said he will allow courts and other state operations to close if he is unable to reach a deal with the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives.
“I’m making plans. I believe we are going to shut down Friday night,” LePage said in a weekly appearance on Maine’s WVOM radio. “The future of Maine is worth shutting it down.”
LePage said he and legislative leaders are $145 million apart in their negotiations over the budget, with Democrats seeking additional funding for schools while LePage is urging cuts elsewhere in the budget to offset spending.
House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, during a Tuesday morning session called the possible shutdown “embarrassing and unconscionable.”
In 1991 the state government shut down for several weeks as a result of a budget impasse, and lawmakers reached a deal only after crowds of furloughed state workers picketed the capitol in Augusta.
The timing of the shutdown, before a long holiday weekend, could be particularly sensitive for a state economy that relies heavily on tourist spending.
“Anything that’s going to make it less likely that people are going to come in from out of state and spend dollars over the holiday weekend is going to hurt business,” said Mark Brewer, a professor of political science at the University of Maine.
LePage has long had an adversarial relationship with state Democrats and threatened a shutdown in the last budget negotiations in 2015, calling the proposed budget a “Christmas tree adorned with piggy projects.”
Maine avoided shutdown in that instance when lawmakers approved a $6.7 billion two-year budget over LePage’s veto.
LePage said that this time, a shutdown may be inevitable: “If there’s a collision to be had, it’s coming Friday night.”
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)