The new Maine Legislature still hasn’t sent any bills to Gov. Janet Mills, but that may change this week as lawmakers also begin their work in earnest to whittle down more than $1.5 billion in borrowing proposals.
The beginning of 2019 in Maine politics has mostly been marked by executive action from the new Democratic governor, including a two-year budget proposal that would sharply increase spending without raising taxes and implementation of voter-approved Medicaid expansion.
The Legislature has gotten off to a characteristically slow start. It’s not abnormal for lawmakers to do little lawmaking in the early part of a legislative session, which is usually reserved for sending newly unveiled bills to committees. However, the Republican-led chambers under former Gov. Paul LePage had already enacted six bills including a supplemental budget by this point in 2011. The new Democratic-led Legislature hasn’t sent any bills to Mills’ desk yet.
A few bills are vying for that honor this week. Three bills that would rename three bridges and a highway — including for Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Silk of Orono, who died in Afghanistan in 2010 — have gotten initial action in the House and could go to Mills as early as this week.
A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would allow federal workers affected by the recent shutdown to access state-guaranteed loans, has emerged from a committee. It faces an initial vote in the Senate today.
Legislative committees are also beginning their work in inevitably narrowing down a large ream of borrowing proposals. Mills’ two-year budget contemplates the state continuing to borrow $100 million annually to supplement road and bridge funding — a common practice in recent years to partially fill a regular funding gap. But legislators have submitted bills that would borrow more than $1.5 billion over the next five years and those will functionally have to be narrowed by committees before a budget passes.
Some of those proposals will be aired in public hearings on Tuesday, including ones from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, that would borrow $100 million and $20 million, respectively, to upgrade Maine’s rural broadband infrastructure. The state’s Internet speeds have been placed among the worst in the country in recent studies, but there has been little policy response in Augusta to date and the state’s main broadband agency has been criticized as dated.
— The former governor spent $22,000 at the president’s Washington, D.C., hotel. He said Monday that he didn’t recall spending $1,100 in one night. Among the $170,000 in out-of-state travel expenses for LePage and staff members in 2017 and 2018 was at least $22,000 to pay for stays in more than 40 rooms at the Trump International Hotel in the nation’s capital, according to the Maine Sunday Telegram. Records obtained by the newspaper are figuring into a Maryland-led lawsuit alleging President Donald Trump — whom LePage, a Republican, endorsed early in his 2016 primary run — is illegally profiting from the hotel and the presidency. LePage told WGAN on Monday that he wasn’t aware of the highest nightly rate paid at the hotel — just over $1,100 — and said if it was true, “shame on me.” However, the state only fulfilled the Maine Sunday Telegram’s long-standing records request after Mills took office.
— Maine will join at least 15 other states in a legal challenge to the president’s border wall emergency declaration. A spokesman for Attorney General Aaron Frey said Monday that Maine will join a lawsuit from Democratic-led states challenging the emergency declaration in federal court. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the suit opposing Trump’s Friday statement in which the Republican president declared a state of emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border after Congress granted him only a fraction of the border wall funding he wanted.
— Bernie’s back. Independent Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Tuesday morning that he plans to run again for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2020. The 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist challenged Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary in 2016 and told Vermont Public Radio that he planned to again seek the nomination. Sanders, who easily won Maine’s Democratic presidential caucuses in 2016, joins a large field of candidates seeking the party’s nomination to challenge Trump. One of the likely leading candidates, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, kicked off her first visit to New Hampshire on Monday on a swing from Concord to Portsmouth — on the Maine border.
— The ballot is taking shape for a special election to fill a vacated Maine House seat from Bath. Republicans from the district will caucus Tuesday evening to pick Kenneth Sener as their nominee. Democrats from the district also will caucus Tuesday to choose between city councilors Mari Eosco and Sean Paulhus, who have both expressed interest in that party’s nomination. Libertarian Christopher Hallowell also seeks a spot on the ballot for the April 2 special election to succeed Democrat Jennifer DeChant, who resigned earlier this month to take a private-sector job.
— Acadia National Park broke another record for visits last year. The estimated number of visits to Acadia National Park in 2018 was 3.53 million, edging a record from the prior year by 28,000. Annual visits to Acadia first passed 3 million in 2016, the 100th anniversary for both the park service and Acadia, when the number of visits reached 3.3 million. The number of visits reached nearly 3.51 million in 2017. Acadia was the seventh most visited national park that year.
There’s nothing better than a pet reunion story to warm the heart on a cold winter day. That’s why the tale of Kaiser, the king shepherd from Massachusetts who found his way to South Paris before being reunited with his Massachusetts humans offered such a welcome respite from the weekend’s snowmobile fatalities, fire deaths and train derailments.
It spurred me to mentally scroll through some of the great “animal journey of self-discovery” films I watched as a kid or that I watched with our kids. The list starts with “Lassie Come Home” and cycles through “The Incredible Journey,” “The Three Lives of Thomasina,” “Homeward Bound,” “The Adventures of Milo and Otis” and, I suppose, “Finding Nemo.”
We have a strict “no dogs must die” rule for our queue, so the list of great four-footed or finned picaresque sagas is probably incomplete. And the cats who rule our house start knocking things off shelves if canines show up on the big screen.
What would top your list of the best “animal adventure with reunion payoff” films? And can anything compete with the real-life sagas of Kaiser and Romeo, the wandering Kennebunkport cat? Here is his soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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