Maine lawmakers are close to a budget deal. Here’s where they’re ‘stuck.’

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, left, speaks at a 2015 news conference in Cumberland.
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The Legislature's appropriations committee has agreed on funding for schools, Medicaid expansion and property tax relief with more narrow disagreements holding up a bargain on Maine's two-year budget.
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The legislative committee handling Maine’s two-year budget agreed on a $75 million property tax relief package and other key provisions over the weekend, falling just short of a grand bargain amid disagreement over education items.

Members of the Appropriations Committee were negotiating privately in the State House for most of the weekend and met with Gov. Janet Mills on Sunday before coming out to air differences and vote on agreed-upon items. The framework of a deal is apparent.

The panel looks like it will settle on a budget that comes in slightly below the Democratic governor’s $8 billion proposal without raising taxes. They still have to agree on areas where Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the committee’s co-chair, said they were “stuck” on Sunday.

The biggest parts of the budget are done, with lawmakers agreeing to a property tax relief package. Education items are among the last sticking points. This budget — under a Democratic-led Legislature but with minority Republicans holding some sway because the document needs two-thirds support in both chambers to pass — has taken a predictable track.

Republicans immediately said the spending level in Mills’ budget was unsustainable, while many Democrats wanted to provide a larger increase in K-12 education funding and property tax relief, though doing all of that would have required a tax increase that Mills didn’t want to have.

That’s why there weren’t many places for this budget to go but only slightly down. The budget committee has agreed to big-ticket items including state aid to schools and Medicaid expansion. On Friday, it agreed to $75 million in property tax relief beyond Mills’ proposal.

It would hike municipal revenue sharing from 2 percent of state tax revenue to 3 percent in the first year and 3.75 percent in the second and expand the Homestead Exemption and a property tax credit. It also agreed to phase in a minimum teacher salary of $40,000 over three years.

They’re at loggerheads on approximately $31 million in Mills’ proposal. Most of it — $24 million — is in annual increases in funding to public colleges and universities and the rest is the addition of 38 positions in the Maine Department of Education.

While Democrats floated lower increases, though Republicans are still holding out on them, with Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a former budget commissioner and a chief negotiator, saying he would prefer that legislators reconsider those increases in January 2020. The sides disagreed on other, more minor line items into Sunday night.

The property tax relief looks the linchpin of the eventual deal so far, with Republicans accepting it in lieu of heightened agency spending. That has looked like the path for a budget deal since last week. Republicans want to lower the overall spending levels and would prefer to send money to cities and towns rather than increasing the head count in state government, while Democrats will take the increased property tax relief.

What’s unclear now is if Republicans will leverage non-budget issues — including Democratic bills to increase abortion access and workers’ compensation reform — as part of any deal. The panel is expected to continue working on the budget at least in private on Monday with no set time to return to take votes.


Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in for packed days of floor votes this week as they look to finish business within the next two weeks or so. The chambers will meet every day this week for the first time in 2019 as leaders look to effectively end all committee work except for on the budget and push through outstanding business ahead of a June 19 adjournment date.

The calendars in the House of Representatives and Senate are long and it’s unclear what exactly will be up for votes today, but the House is expected to take a final vote on a so-called “death with dignity” bill that passed there by two votes last week. The Senate could take an initial vote on a bill to make Maine the fourth state to ban carry-out plastic shopping bags.

Several legislative committees will be in on Monday including the energy panel, which will work on bills relating to Maine’s renewable energy standards and Central Maine Power.


Reading list

— Jury selection for a man accused of fatally shooting a Somerset County deputy begins today. After resolving questions about whether the suspect understood his Miranda rights and about what evidence would be admitted, the court has set aside four days to interview and choose jurors for the Portland trial of John D. Williams, who was the subject of a massive manhunt after allegedly shooting deputy Eugene Cole in April 2018. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

— Maine is attracting interest from global firms that operate land-based fish farms. A third company has expressed interest in building a large-scale land-based fish farm on the state’s coast. Officials from Kingfish Zeeland told a seafood industry publication last month that the company wants to expand into the U.S., and after considering 22 sites on the East Coast, the company has narrowed the list to two in Maine. “The American market for seafood is one of the largest markets in the world. And Maine as a state has a very strong brand, known for very high quality seafood,” said Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association. “Companies that want to produce close to their markets are looking to the United States and Maine is an obvious place.”

— A Maine veteran returned to Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The Associated Press reports that Indian Island resident Charles Shay, who took part in the invasion as a 19-year-old medic, has traveled to Normandy and the U.S. cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, which stands on a bluff overlooking the English Channel where some 160,000 made the perilous D-Day crossing. There, Shay, now 94, plans to be among the crowd Thursday to welcome President Donald Trump and other global leaders as they pay homage to 9,388 dead Americans, most of whom lost their lives on D-Day or in the aftermath of the Normandy offensive.

— The president will formally announce his re-election bid in Florida later this month. Trump tweeted Friday that he will hold a June 18 rally and will be joined by first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Pence’s wife, Karen. The kickoff event will come a week before the first Democratic presidential debates. Trump formalized his re-election effort hours after he was sworn in Jan. 20, 2017, held his first rally in Florida four weeks later and has already raised more than $130 million for his 2020 effort.


Rally zippers

To kill time as I wait for the Appropriations Committee to come back on microphone, I umpire baseball games. I managed to get in five in just a little more than 28 hours this past weekend.

From behind my mask, I can observe quirks and eccentricities that make baseball and the people who play it so interesting. This weekend’s games involved teams from three different states, so I got a glimpse of the subtle ways the game is played differently in each state, along with some unique personal and collective rituals.

The members of one team would stop and pat the top of their heads twice with their throwing hands whenever the top of the other team’s order came up to bat. That was charming and innocuous compared to the “rally zipper” ritual adopted by a team in a different game.

Most casual baseball fans are probably familiar with the “rally cap” scenario in which players on a team that’s trailing turn their caps inside out or backward in an effort to change their luck. In the rally zipper scenario, the team was leading by five runs but decided that to clinch the victory, the players would all unzip their flies as they took the field for the last inning. Teenage boys will be teenage boys.

They promptly gave up eight runs and lost. Until they started frittering away the lead, their coach seemed all in on the concept. By the time they started rethinking it, the proverbial cart was out of the barn.

As an umpire, I did briefly wonder if I should intervene. But while the baseball rule book is very clear on what constitutes an infield fly, it does not expressly address the question of whether flies should be zipped. I suppose the situation might have bumped up against the “making a travesty of the game” dictum, but the level of play during the previous six innings had already firmly established that we had all been participating in a travesty long before the floodgates opened. 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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