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Newspaper: LePage staff involved in closed-door budget negotiations that he railed against

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage's staff was engaged with lawmakers during behind-the-scenes budget negotiations even as the governor railed against legislative leaders and said he had "no clue" what they were going to adopt, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Portland Press Herald (http://bit.ly/1INm220 ) obtained documents under the Freedom of Access Act that indicate LePage's senior staff was aware of details of what was being negotiated by legislative leadership. The governor's deputy finance chief provided the final analysis before party leaders briefed their caucuses on the agreement, according to the newspaper.

Michael Allen, who advises the governor on tax policy, updated senior staff on the details on June 15, a day before LePage told Boston radio talk-show host Howie Carr that "I have no clue what they're passing," the newspaper reported.

The secret nature of negotiations on the $6.7 billion budget was a bone of contention in the final days of the legislative session, with the Republican governor saying at one point that legislative leaders "checked their character and integrity at the door."

Adrienne Bennett, the governor's spokeswoman, told the newspaper that LePage authorized Maine Revenue Services to conduct the analyses "in the spirit of cooperation" but that the administration wasn't an active participant in negotiations.

"We were not invited to the table during the final negotiations on the budget," she said.

LePage reiterated Thursday that he was not aware of details of the negotiations. He said it was routine for his staff to assist lawmakers but said that didn't mean he was privy to the details.

"I was completely in the dark," the governor told WGAN-AM radio talk show host Ken Altshuler.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, told the newspaper in a statement that legislative leaders worked directly with the administration's top staff, using data they provided to help put together a budget proposal.

"It is disingenuous for Gov. LePage to suggest that he was unaware of our detailed plans or goals when his top administrators and appointees were providing the analysis of the impact of each proposal," Eves said.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said the assistance from Allen and Maine Revenue Services was critical to helping leadership complete the budget talks but that the final details were reached in private. He said the governor's repeated criticism of the negotiating process had "overshadowed much of the good in the budget."


Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

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