August 25, 2019
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As budget talks drag on in the shadows, Maine lawmakers start bumping other key decisions to 2020

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, which is trying to finish Maine's consensus two-year budget process.

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With less than three weeks to go in the scheduled 2019 legislative session, the panel working on Maine’s two-year budget is set to meet publicly on Friday for the first time in a week as lawmakers begin to punt high-profile measures into 2020.

Budget negotiations are getting tenser and there has been no sign of a breakthrough ahead of a scheduled meeting this morning. Not much conclusive information has leaked from the private rooms around the appropriations panel, which is in the thick of the consensus budget process that must produce a document that can get two-thirds approval in both chambers after Gov. Janet Mills$8 billion proposal. Democrats have been trying to find ways to increase K-12 spending and aid to cities and towns. Republicans want to spend less overall.

Lawmakers have been meeting privately all week and haven’t met in public since last Friday. It looked for a while on Thursday as if the panel could return to meet publicly but they never returned and tentatively scheduled a 10:30 a.m. meeting on Friday that is subject to change.

Outside issues could be affecting the talks: Senate Republicans have said that killing a bill to cover abortions under MaineCare and negotiating a business-friendly deal on workers’ compensation reform are priorities; Democrats say the budget should be considered separately.

One of the rumored linchpins in the budget itself is municipal revenue sharing, which may stand to increase in any deal. Mills increased it from 2 percent to 3 percent of state tax revenues in her proposal, but it’s still short of a 5 percent statutory mark that hasn’t been met in a decade.

While former Gov. Paul LePage once proposed zeroing the program out, legislative Republicans this time around may agree to property tax relief as an alternative to giving more money to the Mills administration. We may learn more about this today, though there was no sign of a breakthrough in talks by Thursday night.

Key measures — including top priorities of two leading Democratic lawmakers — were kicked into 2020. On Thursday, the labor committee voted to carry over a bill to create a statewide paid family and medical leave program from House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, after Mills signed a paid leave mandate into law earlier this month.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, is also requesting more time for input on his bill to create a public power utility in Maine by buying the infrastructure of Central Maine Power and Emera Maine so it can be brought back in 2020 for consideration. It’s a normal occurrence for big, unresolved issues late in a legislative session.


Today in A-town

Other than the scheduled budget talks, most lawmakers have left Augusta for the week. As lobbyists, staff and reporters wait to see if white smoke will rise from the appropriations committee room on Friday, just two other legislative panels will meet for what will likely be quick public hearings on bills that would affect veterans’ services and increase land permit fees. It may be the last slow day for the Legislature this year.


Reading list

— It appears that Maine won’t jump on the bandwagon to gut the Electoral College. The House of Representatives voted 76-66 Thursday to reject a bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that calls for Maine to join a coalition of states seeking to assign their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationally. The bill passed the Senate in a narrow vote earlier this month with two Democrats voting against it, but 21 House Democrats broke ranks with most of their party to oppose the proposal. Eight of them were from the 2nd District, which gave an electoral vote to Republican Donald Trump in 2016.

— A Democratic megadonor with Maine ties is named in a subpoena demanding records on a former Florida gubernatorial candidate. A recently issued federal grand jury subpoena obtained by the Tampa Bay Times seeks records on Andrew Gillum, his campaign and Donald Sussman, the billionaire hedge-fund manager, former husband of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District and a megadonor who donated $1.5 million to the campaign. The subpoena names other people including Harris Parnell, a donor adviser who has worked for Sussman in Maine and revolves around Gillum’s 2018 campaign. That’s different in scope from a previously disclosed FBI probe into Tallahassee government while Gillum served as mayor of the capital before losing the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race to Republican Ron DeSantis.

— A decades-old effort to allow doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives won a key victory on Thursday. The Maine Senate voted 19-16 on Thursday in support of a bill that would allow the practice. The bill from Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, would make Maine the ninth state to pass what proponents call a “death with dignity” law, bypassing a statewide referendum that proponents slated for 2020. It is backed largely by Democrats and opposed by social conservatives. It passed the House in a 72-68 vote on Tuesday. MIlls has not taken a stance on the bill.

— Maine is poised to become the fourth state to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. The House voted 91-52 along strict party lines Thursday to advance a bill from Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay, that would have Maine join California, New York and Hawaii in banning the bags. The compromise bill, which was negotiated by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Retail Association of Maine and the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, will take effect in April 2020. All House Republicans voted against it, with some arguing in floor speeches that it could harm Maine businesses and that the proposal would be more symbolic than impactful. Earlier this month, Mills signed a bill to make Maine the first state to ban single-use foam food and beverage containers.

— A Belfast-based social service agency that abruptly announced plans to close now says it can’t pay employees and will file for bankruptcy. The executive director of the soon-to-be-shuttered Broadreach Family & Community Services sent a memo to all his staff Wednesday saying that the agency plans to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and cannot issue them their last paychecks, which they would normally receive Friday. Earlier this week, he said that the Belfast-based nonprofit agency employed nearly 80 social workers, case managers, teachers, trainers and other staff members who worked in Waldo, Knox and Lincoln counties. He and other Broadreach officials announced last week that after 35 years, the agency would close, a move that caught many in the community off guard.


Hive mind

“Octo-champs”

Can you use that in a sentence, please?

“Overzealous spelling bee enthusiasts are not happy that this year’s national spelling bee resulted in octo-champs.”

This morning’s brewing controversy in the world of “sports” derives from the judges’ decision to name eight co-champions for the 2019 national spelling bee. After each member of the octet spelled their way correctly through 20 rounds, the people who run the bee essentially said they had run out of hard words and were calling it a draw.

The buzz among some bee fanatics could best be summed up with two letters: BS.

“This would never happen at my bee,” said Rahul Walia, founder of the South Asian Spelling Bee. “They need to use harder words. The words are available.”

Instead of digging for or inventing harder words, the folks who want to see blood at spelling bees should all just watch the 2013 film “ Bad Words” and then reflect long and hard on what it says about people who delight in driving kids to participate in dictionary memorization wars. That kind of pre-adolescent psychological trauma will almost certainly cause those kids to suffer from defecaloesiophobia later in life. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd 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 or rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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