While thousands of state employees wonder about their next paycheck, and Maine lawmakers work overtime to come to a budget agreement and end a government shutdown, Gov. Paul LePage is planning to take a break of sorts.
Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Republican Senator Roger Katz said LePage notified legislative leaders Monday morning that he would be going on vacation. He had said he would be leaving the state for at least 10 days.
"It is the biggest abdication of responsibility I have ever witnessed," said Democrat Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.
The government partially shut down Friday at midnight, closing state services such as court houses and motor vehicle bureaus. Lawmakers have been working weekends, and plan to work the July 4th holiday, to come to a budget agreement and end the shutdown.
LePage has blamed the speaker for the budget stalemate.
Later Monday afternoon, LePage told WSCSH-TV political analyst Phil Harriman he had no plans to leave the state, and that his pen would be vacationing instead.
While the governor is able to sign or veto legislation while out of the office, he signaled that he may not exercise that ability. In a Facebook video posted Monday morning, LePage said he will neither sign nor veto a budget bill that includes a tax increase.
"The Constitution allows me 10 days before the bill becomes law," said LePage. "If they put a tax increase in, the bill will sit on my desk for 10 days and it's going to cause a two-week shutdown."
There are about 12,000 state employees in Maine. More than 200 of them protested at the State House Monday, urging lawmakers to pass a budget so they can get back to work.
"Without pay, it's a huge hardship," said Allison Perkins, a worker at DHHS who just had a baby. "Not knowing if I'm going to get paid again this month is huge."
Augusta Mayor David Rollins said the government shutdown is already having an impact on local businesses. He said if state employees aren't getting paid, they're not spending income.
"This is having an impact on our city," said Rollins. "Lunch counters, shop owners, gas stations – they’re going to feel the impact if this goes on too long."