DOT IN CRISIS: Maine, N.J., Illinois, facing shutdown due to budget impasse

Partisan politics and bickering sacrifices progress once again

July 03, 2017
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Three states are going into varying levels of remission this holiday weekend, as disputes between Republican governors and Democratic-led state legislatures have forced the state governments of Maine and New Jersey into partial shut-downs and a long-standing budgetary impasse in Illinois is closing down construction work statewide.

In both Maine and New Jersey, legislative leaders and governors lobbed insults and pointed fingers. In Maine, Republicans in the legislature blocked a budget deal that had been expected to clear final hurdles late last Friday. Gov. Paul LePage (R) introduced his own spending plan that legislators had not seen just hours before the end of the fiscal year.

Democrats, who control the state House, refused to go along with LePage’s proposal. State House Speaker Sara Gideon (D) said the governor, who has clashed repeatedly even with members of his own party, threw a “temper tantrum” when he didn't get his way. “He walked out with the words ‘Shut her down,’” Gideon said on the state House floor according to The Hill.

In a statement, LePage blamed Gideon for failing to work through a budget plan he had proposed in Maine. LePage said he wanted steeper tax cuts.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) ordered the state government to shut down for the first time in 11 years after he and state Democratic legislative leaders failed to reach agreement on their own budget deal. State law requires a new budget by June 30.

Christie is feuding with state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D) over a plan to require Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield to fund a drug treatment program that Christie has spearheaded. The state Senate included the provision in their budget, but Prieto said his chamber would not act on that provision. Prieto called the measure “an unfair Christie tax on [Horizon's] 3.8 million policyholders.”

Christie issued an executive order shutting down the government early Saturday morning. “This order is necessary to maintain the protection, safety and well-being of the people of New Jersey while I attempt to convince the legislature to send me a fiscally responsible budget that I can sign and re-open New Jersey's government,” Christie said in a statement announcing the shutdown. “This was completely avoidable. But Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto needlessly stalled the budget process, forcing the closure of New Jersey government and inconveniencing everyone living in and visiting our state.”

Illinois also failed to reach a budget deal ahead of the new fiscal year, as Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and state House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) worked on a deal. The state has been without a budget for three years. Republicans are pushing Democrats to cut spending and cap taxes, while Democrats are pressing Republicans to raise taxes to eliminate a budget gap. Illinois’ state comptroller has told legislators the state faces $15 billion in unpaid bills. Illinois law allows the state government to remain open even without a budget. However, lack of a budget will result in the shutdown of a planned $2.2 billion in highway and bridge construction spending on some 900 active projects with an awarded value of $3.3 billion. Moreover, IDOT will be precluded from opening any new projects in FY 2018.

State Republican recently broke with Rauner to approve a major income tax increase; the governor has sworn to veto it.