August 25, 2019
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Why today looms large for lawmakers striving to hash out Maine’s next budget

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A man walks toward the State House in Augusta in February 2019.

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A Maine panel will deliver a revenue forecast on Wednesday that will be one of the final major pieces of information that the Legislature needs to complete a two-year budget in which Gov. Janet Mills proposed spending nearly all available money.

The Democratic governor’s $8 billion budget proposal was the starting point for negotiations in the Legislature that haven’t moved much so far. Legislative Democrats have proposed more spending that almost surely won’t happen without raising taxes, which Mills has ruled out. Minority Republicans want a lower budget.

The forecast, which will be rolled out by the state’s Revenue Forecasting Committee, will account for April tax revenues and give lawmakers an idea of their limitations. Here’s how it could impact the budget negotiations.

There’s little evidence that things will change much in the upcoming forecast for the next two budget years, but tax revenues could surprise. The committee builds its work on tax revenue and the state’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission. The revenue forecast will be particularly important to budget negotiations simply because Mills’ budget proposal is so stretched — proposing lots of new spending without raising taxes.

As originally drafted, the governor’s budget would have balanced with just $383,000 to spare. Since the passage of a relatively minor supplemental budget in March, the budget is now projected to be about $5 million in the negative, though Maine budgets must balance.

For now, it’s hard to see how the revenue picture will change in a major way. The Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission delivered its last forecast in April, making no big changes to Maine’s economic outlook in the next two budget years.

The revenue forecast will take April tax collection into account. The Legislature’s fiscal office reported that state revenue was under budget for February, but called that largely the result of income tax refunds exceeding budget amounts. It said it was “a timing issue that can be made up in subsequent months.”

Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, the lead House Republican of the Legislature’s budget committee and a former budget commissioner, said “everything will depend on April processing” and whether it will affect the current budget year and the revenue projections for later years.

Budget negotiations have only just begun, with majority Democrats wanting more spending that will be constrained by Republicans and available funds. Democrats control Augusta this year, but the two-year budget will require two-thirds approval in both chambers, so it remains subject to a consensus process that involves Republicans. Mills signaled her desire not to raise taxes in her first budget during her 2018 campaign.

It led to angst among progressives who want to increase school funding and municipal revenue sharing to statutory requirements. Both have long gone unmet under governors in both parties and legislative Democrats have already recommended fulfilling them, but that education funding will require $200 million alone and that’s unlikely to materialize without raising taxes.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has just begun budget talks, voting in uncontroversial items and tabling measures that provide for new spending or positions. It will be easier for them to get going in earnest after getting a revenue picture on Wednesday.


Today in A-town

A number of high-profile Democrat-backed bills will be considered in legislative committees today, including the ‘death with dignity’ bill. A bill to allow for terminally ill patients to request life-ending medication is ready to be voted on in the Health and Human Services Committee. The Maine Death with Dignity Act, from Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, would allow any adult who meets certain qualifications and has been determined to be the attending physician for a person suffering from a terminal disease, to request prescribed medication to end the person’s life. Doing so would require consent from the patient.

It’s the third time in four years that lawmakers have made the proposal, which has been the subject of a referendum drive that proponents have targeted for 2020 should it not pass the Legislature this time. Listen here.

Maine’s version of the Green New Deal, from Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, is ready for votes in the energy committee. A less extensive version of the proposal before Congress, Maxmin’s bill seeks to reduce Maine’s carbon emissions by 80 percent in 2040. It shares similarities with a bill that Mills unveiled Tuesday to form a Climate Change Council and generate 80 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable resources by 2030. The work session begins at 1 p.m. Listen here.

A public hearing will begin at 10 a.m. in the Health Coverage, Insurance, and Financial Services Committee on a bill from House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, that would expand the pool of medical professionals able to perform abortions beyond just physicians. Under her bill, a physician assistant, advanced practice nurse, or licensed allopathic and osteopathic physicians could also perform the medical procedure. Listen here.

Other bills of note today include one from Rep. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport, to make the “ Ballad of the 20th Maine” by the Maine band Ghost of Paul Revere the official state ballad. Another bill from Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, seeks to adjust the work requirement rules for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program recipients by requiring parents to attend their children’s medical and mental health appointments as part of their “life management skill and job readiness training.” See the full schedule here.


Reading list

— A judge convicted a Maine woman of murdering a 4-year-old in an abuse case he said ‘could only be described as torture.’ Superior Court Justice William Stokes on Tuesday delivered his guilty verdict against Shawna Gatto for the death of Kendall Chick at the Wiscasset home where they lived with Chick’s grandfather. Chick’s death and that of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy three months later prompted legislative investigations into their deaths, a state investigation into the child welfare system, changes to the system by lawmakers and a contracted report from the department. Gatto will be sentenced on June 25. Meanwhile, Kennedy’s mother will return to court on Thursday to make the case that statements she made to police after the child’s death should not be used as evidence against her.

— The Maine Department of Corrections agreed to share records related to suicide attempts at the state’s youth center with an advocacy group. In a consent agreement filed Tuesday, the department said it would provide the records to Disability Rights Maine, which had sued the state, alleging that corrections officials’ refusal to share the records was obstructing its investigation into “evidence of a facility-wide failure to provide youth with disabilities with programs and services that are required by law.” The agreement comes in the wake of recent tumultuous years for Long Creek, the state’s only youth correctional facility. After the suicide of an inmate in 2016, as well as a reported pattern of abuse and self-harm within the youth prison, there have been repeated calls for reform at the facility — or for its outright closure.

— Both legislative chambers have now endorsed a bill to ban Native American mascots. The Maine Senate voted 23-10 in favor of the bill from Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland, following a similar endorsement from the House. The measure requires further votes in each chamber, but appears headed to the governor. Mills declined to answer a question Tuesday about whether she would sign it.

— A bill designed to restore internet privacy rights that Congress weakened in 2017 took a big step toward passage. The Legislature’s energy and utilities committee voted 8-1 to recommend passage of a bill from Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, that would prohibit internet service providers operating in Maine from using or selling access to personal information of customers unless the customer consents to it. A similar bill failed to pass last year by one vote in the Senate, but with Democrats now controlling both legislative chambers, its chances of passing now are much improved.


May madness

When I was in high school, some of my more virulent friends would honor today’s date with “Hooray, hooray for the first of May: Outdoor [copulation] starts today.”

It seemed like hormone-charged adolescent bravado to me — a chaste bookworm — but I have since learned that the impassioned call to al fresco passion is rooted in ancient ritual.

The ancient Greeks viewed their equivalent of May Day as the signal to embark on 30 days of “all night revels” to honor Dionysius, the god of wine, and Aphrodite, goddess of love. The Romans latched onto that idea and used it as an excuse for debauchery so wild that Emperor Constantine determined it needed to be reined in.

Pagans in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man for centuries have celebrated May 1 as Beltane, a spring holiday that’s all about fire and fertility. Apparently, the original Beltane rituals were mostly about using “sacred fires” to bless livestock as the animals were moved to summer pasture. But then mead got involved, and well …

If the ground is too cold or you can’t get a burn permit, click here for a suggested solitary Beltane observance. And here is your 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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