June 26, 2019
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Maine progressives can claim big victories this year, but that does not mean they are satisfied

Christopher Cousins | BDN
Christopher Cousins | BDN
Supporters of the Maine People's Alliance gather to protest Gov. Paul LePage's biennial budget proposal in this 2015 BDN file photo.

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Progressive groups including the Maine People’s Alliance are holding a rally for a “moral state budget” at the State House on Thursday, underscoring tension on the left about how much the new Democratic-led Legislature will accomplish in 2019.

That’s a common thread when parties have full control in Augusta. The outcome of the two-year budget — which is poised to come in around $8 billion and make no changes to Maine’s income tax system — was easy to predict after Gov. Janet Millscampaign promise not to hike taxes in it.

It’s not all that progressives are uneasy about: Mills’ penchant for big bargains with conservative interests on issues including paid leave and a so-called red flag bill have stifled more aggressive Democratic versions and helped push other high-profile, more progressive proposals to the sidelines.

Progressives have wanted to repeal 2011 income tax cuts for high earners, but Mills’ pledge not to raise taxes basically prevented that. When parties have full control of Augusta, there is always a tension between accomplishing an agenda and not overreaching so much that the party is swept out of legislative control in the next election.

There are still Republicans who think the party underreached after the 2010 election in the first term of Gov. Paul LePage by not passing sweeping changes, including “right-to-work” legislation, though the 2011 two-year budget made the biggest income tax cut in Maine history.

Democrats still won the Legislature by running against LePage and the tax cuts they deemed to be largely “for the rich” in 2012, although the consensus budget process meant that they voted for the tax cuts as well. That tax system has survived since, and it’s going to survive this year.

Mills outlined a desire not to raise taxes during the campaign. Her $8 billion budget proposal would have raised aid to schools, cities and towns, but it fell short of long-unmet requirements to pay 55 percent of basic school costs and give 5 percent of state tax revenue to municipalities.

Democratic bills were introduced to undo some of the tax cuts, but Mills’ pledge affected the two-year budget process in such a way that no tax increase were part of the discussion with Republicans, who could hold up a budget deal under the traditional process that requires two-thirds votes in both chambers to pass a budget by June’s end.

Progressives have begun speaking out about it in earnest this week, when an analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy told the news arm of the Maine People’s Alliance that it was “a colossal missed opportunity to not have revenue on the table.”

Mills broke with LePage to look for consensus on key issues. Progressives are wondering if that’s the right tactic. Bipartisan deals on big issues were few and far between during the hard-charging administration of LePage, Maine’s all-time veto leader and presider over a 2017 state shutdown. Mills has stuck her neck out to support the unpopular Central Maine Power corridor through western Maine and other party-line proposals, including expanding abortion access and banning LGBTQ conversion therapy, but she perhaps most embraces the deal-making part of being in the Blaine House.

A Maine People’s Alliance referendum push on paid sick leave led to a deal between lawmakers, Mills’ administration and business interests on a leave mandate. Progressives swallowed it, but the group ran a headline mentioning “the business lobby’s influence” with Mills this week after a paid family leave bill was shelved until 2020.

It was a signature push from House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who may run against Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins next year. On Tuesday, Gideon hosted gun-control activist David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, in her State House office.

The purpose of his Maine trip? To message for gun control bills viewed dimly by Mills, including a bill that would allow courts to order gun seizures by deeming someone dangerous. However, that “red flag” bill is likely to fail in favor of a compromise measure between Mills and gun-rights groups that only applies to people with mental health conditions.

Today in A-town

With statutory adjournment less than two weeks away, the House and Senate are at a stage when bills are bouncing back and forth quickly between chambers. The House of Representatives and Senate will be in just after 10 a.m. The Senate could take up Gideon’s automatic voter registration bill, which advanced with an initial party-line vote Wednesday in the House. The Senate also is likely to take an initial vote on the latest effort by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to provide tax relief to Maine loggers who believe that Canadian loggers have an unfair competitive advantage. Click here to watch the Senate.

The House, where floor debate grew testy Wednesday after Republicans repeatedly used points of order to disrupt a speech by Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, about her watered-down Green New Deal bill, could take up a series of worker protection bills that passed the Senate with party-line votes on Wednesday. Click here to watch the House.

At this juncture, each chamber is plowing through procedural votes and unfinished business as leaders pick and choose a few controversial pieces of legislation to debate each day. Meanwhile, there’s been little public movement from the Appropriations Committee on the biennial budget, that earlier this week seemed close to being finalized.

Reading list

— A third attempt to implement rules for regulating Maine’s recreational marijuana market is on its way to legislators. On Wednesday, the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy sent draft rules for sales and oversight of marijuana for recreational use to the Legislature. Maine voters legalized recreational use of marijuana in November 2016, but the previous Legislature and LePage could not agree on how to implement the voters’ mandate. The state got back on track with efforts to create a framework for the recreational marijuana market in May 2018, after lawmakers overrode LePage’s second veto of proposed guidelines, but it’s taken more than a year to reach a point where a new administration has sent draft guidelines for lawmakers to review before they adjourn later this month.

— Meanwhile, the latest attempt to keep minors out of tanning beds is on its way to the governor. The Associated Press reports that the Maine Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would make Maine the 18th state to prevent minors from using tanning beds. LePage vetoed a similar measure six years ago. Maine already prohibits the use of tanning beds by individuals younger than 14. Minors who are 14 or 15 years old must have signed permission from a parent or legal guardian, who must be physically present during tanning. Minors who are 16 or 17 years old also need such a signed consent form, but a parent or legal guardian isn’t required to be physically present.

— Belfast’s mayor and some city councilors are still squabbling about whether the name of a building is racist. The city council revisited its charged discussion about whether calling a building Redmen’s Hall is racist. At the request of Mayor Samantha Paradis, a tribal representative weighed in to say it is, but some city councilors expressed concern that labeling members of the Tarratine Tribe No. 13 “racist” was unfair to “good people who are doing good work in Belfast, providing a lot of services,” according to City Councilor Mike Hurley. The issue first came up as city officials considered moving a polling place to the building. That will not happen.

— Regulatory meetings next week could have a big impact on Maine fisheries and the people who make a living from them. Catch limits and cameras on fishing boats will be hot topics as the New England Fishery Management Council gathers for three days of meetings beginning June 11 in South Portland. Stricter catch limits on herring could affect lobster haulers who rely on the species for bait, while on-board cameras to monitor groundfish yields and scallop stock management issues will be up for discussion.

‘I wanted to survive’

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy that put the Allied forces in position to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazis in World War II.

Every day, we lose survivors of that historic, heroic effort. The youngest veterans of D-Day are in their 90s, and Smithsonian reports that, as of mid-May, only three of World War II’s 472 Medal of Honor survivors were still alive.

Many poignant words have been written about the invasion and its impact on history. Far fewer words have been written about or by those who survived as so many of their colleagues died on the beaches.

“I wanted to survive,” Charles Shay, a medic from Indian Island, recently told Reuters. After not talking publicly about his experience for more than 50 years, he told the Associated Press: “So many dead. So many young men, young boys, killed on the spot. It was difficult to see and absorb.”

“The noise of war does more than deafen you,” wrote Ray Lambert, another medic who landed on Omaha Beach 75 years ago today. “It’s worse than shock, more physical than something thumping against your chest. It pounds your bones, rumbling through your organs, counter-beating your heart. Your skull vibrates. You feel the noise as if it’s inside you, a demonic parasite pushing at every inch of skin to get out.”

Perhaps the best lasting tribute we could offer to Shay, Lambert and all those who died on the beaches 75 years ago would be to ensure that the detached bravado of our political leaders never again forces young people to endure the horrible “noise of war.” 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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