AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats in the Maine Legislature on Tuesday proposed spending $43.8 million on already-approved bills as Republicans stood divided on spending anything at all.
It comes as legislators decide whether to spend or save $55 million in projected surplus revenues after Gov. Paul LePage decided not to submit a revised budget in 2016. The package would fund more than 20 bills delayed on the Legislature’s Special Appropriations Table.
It includes a $6.4 million bill to raise reimbursement rates for home- and community-based health services, $4.9 million in emergency money for county jails and other proposals that would make state university tuition free for veterans and establish police-run diversion programs for people convicted of certain drug-use offenses.
It would spend nearly $23.8 million from the state’s surplus, reallocating another $20 million in government funds and putting $31.2 million more in Maine’s rainy day fund, largely made up of Republican spending proposals.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, called it “our attempt to start a conversation.”
Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said it was necessitated after the “chaos” that LePage created by not proposing a stopgap budget this year, and it’s best to solve them at once.
“The reality is that no business, no nonprofit just pays one bill at a time,” he said. “You look at all your bills, you look at all your fixes, you look at all your investments, and you come up with a package, and government should do that, too.”
But a divide between Republican leaders showed itself before the package rolled out, making it uncertain what on the table — if anything — will get funding.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said his caucus wants the entire surplus to go into the rainy day fund, a stance that LePage has already advocated. Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, a budget committee member, reiterated that after the Democrats’ proposal was released.
Fredette said “there’s nothing in crisis” and some bills on the table could be revived in January, when LePage intends to present a stopgap budget.
“I don’t think it does us any good to try to pass a supplemental budget that we’re going to pass over the governor’s veto,” Fredette said.
However, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said he wants to fund a number of bills, including allocating the emergency jail money and legislation that would exempt civic, religious and fraternal groups from taxes on meals sold.
Thibodeau said he’s advocating for a “very small and focused” spending package, saying any final compromise won’t be “zero,” but it won’t be “large.”
“But I think some place in between is the place where cooler heads will prevail,” he said, “and we’ll take care of some of these issues that I would be embarrassed to go home and be embarrassed to say I didn’t take care of.”