As one fight winds down, another revs up as Maine lawmakers look to end session on time

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Some Republicans — including Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, seen here in January — are holding out on supporting a two-year budget deal largely over an abortion bill favored by Democrats.
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Some Maine Republicans are holding out on supporting a two-year state budget deal inked on Wednesday, but it likely has the votes to pass with support from Democrats and veteran Republican negotiators.
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Good morning from Augusta. It was the most hectic day of 2019 at the State House on Wednesday, with a legislative panel approving a deal on a two-year budget and Gov. Janet Mills vetoing two bills aimed at Central Maine Power’s proposed hydropower corridor.

The fight over the first item looks to be winding down — though it isn’t over yet — while the political dispute over the 145-mile transmission line may just be beginning with a clear path to regulatory approval by fall without interference from the Maine Legislature.

Some Republicans are livid about Democrats’ passage of a bill to allow MaineCare to cover abortions, but it isn’t likely to hold up a deal. The budget deal announced Wednesday sets spending at $7.987 billion over two years, just less than the $8 billion that Mills proposed in February. While it increases K-12 education aid and $75 million in property tax relief, progressives fault the budget for not raising taxes on high earners to fund schools and municipal aid at long-unmet statutory goals and Republicans find the bottom line hard to swallow.

That budget deal split Republicans on the appropriations committee. Their veteran negotiators — Sen. Jim Hamper of Oxford and Reps. Sawin Millett of Waterford and Dennis Keschl of Belgrade — voted for it and two new members — Reps. Amy Arata of New Gloucester and Nathan Wadsworth of Hiram — opposed it with Arata proposing one worth $31 million less.

The main sticking point isn’t the budget: It is a bill opposed by Republicans that would supplant a ban on federal abortion funding by using state money to cover abortions under MaineCare, at an estimated cost of more than $600,000 over two years.

Before voting on the budget, the committee sent the abortion funding bill to the chambers along party lines. Democrats passed it and sent it Mills, who supports it. Arata said earlier in the day that passage of it could keep her and other Republicans from voting for the budget, which requires two-thirds votes in both chambers. Other Republicans have eyed workers’ compensation reform as an issue.

Still, it’s unclear if Republicans would have the votes to hold up the budget deal, even over the abortion issue. Democrats hold 89 seats in the House. With six independents, they would only have to pick off a single-digit number of Republicans to pass it. The needed majorities are probably there in the House and Senate if the votes of the veteran Republican negotiators are signs.

A top Democrat on the energy committee implored Republicans to reverse themselves to oppose Mills’ veto of the corridor bills. There was confusion in the State House on Wednesday after an anti-corridor advocate sent out a news release saying Mills had vetoed bills aimed at Central Maine Power’s proposed transmission lines that would make two-thirds of towns affected by the project — or others like it — approve it and limit the use of eminent domain to build them. Mills’ office said that was untrue in the afternoon, then the governor delivered her veto messages about three hours later on Wednesday.

Mills, who backed the project in February, called the proposals “poor public policy” and said they would give towns disproportionate power over a project with statewide benefits and would discourage private investment by upsetting established regulatory and permitting procedures.

Those proposals passed easily in the Senate, but they were narrower in the House, where some Democrats voted with almost all Republicans against them. Lawmakers will need two-thirds majorities to override Mills’ veto, which is unlikely.

But Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, a CMP critic and co-chair of the Legislature’s energy committee, said if he was a Republican with “no particular loyalty to the governor,” he would consider opposing them. It seems like a strange statement for a top Democrat to make about his party’s governor, but it’s not as much under the strange politics of the corridor.

It’s a strange statement for a top Democrat to be asking Republicans to oppose his party’s governor, but the politics of the deeply unpopular line are strange and could get more difficult for the governor as the project winds toward further permitting.


Today in A-town

It’ll be a busy and uncertain day in Augusta, which is typical when lawmakers are pushing to end work for the year. There are long calendars in the House and Senate on Thursday and it will likely be a long day on the floors as the chambers move through piles of legislation ahead of scheduled adjournment next Wednesday. Among the votes we’re expecting today is an initial one in the Senate on a bill to allow no more than a 1 percent local-option meals and lodging tax. It passed the House narrowly on Tuesday, though it will face further action in both chambers before going to Mills, who hasn’t stated a position on it yet.

We’re unlikely to see any official movement on the two-year budget Thursday. Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said lawmakers have until 4 p.m. today to submit proposed amendments to the budget while telling senators to expect a long Friday. Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, and Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the co-chairs of the budget committee, will hold a 9:30 a.m. news conference on the document.

A legislative committee will continue its work on proposed marijuana rules from the Mills administration. Lobbyist Betsy Sweet will be just down Route 201 in Gardiner for a 5:30 p.m. announcement to likely say she’s running against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in 2020. The 2018 gubernatorial candidate would be the Republican’s first well-known Democratic challenger.


Readling list

— It will soon be legal for terminally ill Mainers to end their lives with help from a doctor. Calling it the hardest decision she has made as governor, Mills signed a bill on Wednesday to make Maine the ninth state to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients. The bill barely passed the House and Senate in final votes earlier this week. Mainers rejected a similar measure narrowly in 2000, and it has been the subject of seven legislative pushes since 1992, although a 2017 survey from advocates showed 73 percent support for the law in the state.

— Maine Democrats who reversed earlier votes breathed life into a national effort to alter the Electoral College system. On Wednesday, after a rare tie vote, the Maine House of Representatives reversed its opposition to a bill that would link the state’s electoral votes to the national popular vote. The bill, sponsored by Jackson, initially passed the Senate in a narrow vote last month, but it was in danger of failing after a 76-66 vote against it in the House. On Wednesday, the Democratic-led lower chamber reversed itself to back it in a 77-69 vote. It faces further action in both chambers amid heavy mobilization against it led by the Maine Republican Party. The national effort requires endorsement from states with a total of 270 electoral votes. If Maine joins, it would put that figure near 200.

— Jurors in a high-profile murder trial saw video of a confession and a controversial arrest photo. On the third day of what’s expected to be a two-week trial for the fatal shooting of Cpl. Eugene Cole, prosecutors brought witnesses and photographs showing the capture of John D. Williams on April 28, 2018, after a nearly four-day manhunt. They also played an approximately hour-and-a-half video of Williams’ apparent confession recorded soon after that capture, in which he describes to detectives the fateful encounter with Cole and says: “I shot him in the head.” The trial is less about whether Williams shot Cole — attorneys on both sides have agreed that happened — but rather about whether he intended to kill the Somerset County Sheriff’s deputy when he did so. If the jury finds he knowingly or intentionally killed Cole, they can find him guilty of murder, which carries a sentence of between 25 years and life in prison. If jurors believe he was too impaired by drugs to have formed the intent to kill, as his defense attorneys are arguing, they may be allowed to instead convict him of manslaughter, which has a maximum sentence of 30 years and no minimum term.

— Small-town voters made some very Maine decisions on Election Day. Thomaston voted to keep its police department. Camden voted to keep fast-food joints out of downtown. Freedom voters chose not to dump two selectmen in a conflict that was mostly about bad roads during mud season. And Stockton Springs voted to take ownership of a moldy old elementary school.


Yes-and …

Another graduation season is just about over. As a long-ago student, sibling of four, teacher, parent and journalist, I have sat through countless commencement addresses.

Some were inspiring. Some were dull. Some were cringeworthy. And some were obviously mailed in.

One of the best I’ve encountered — which I did not witness but discovered in researching one of the annual graduation editorials I wrote for years [always cringeworthy] — came from Stephen Colbert. The satirist and late-night television host has become a top draw on the sheepskin podium circuit — going viral at Wake Forest in 2015 — but it was one of his earliest addresses at a small college that earned my admiration.

In 2006, after advising that year’s graduates of Knox College not to wear robes to their first job interviews, Colbert offered this advice:

“Say ‘yes’ as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, ‘yes-and.’ In this case, ‘yes-and’ is a verb. … And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. … You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.

Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say ‘yes.’ And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say ‘yes’ back.

Now will saying ‘yes’ get you in trouble at times? Will saying ‘yes’ lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise.Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying ‘yes’ begins things. Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow. Saying ‘yes’ leads to knowledge. ‘Yes’ is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say ‘yes.’”

Now you tell me. Thanks, Stephen. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long


Programming note

Daily Brief will likely take a one-day hiatus on Friday. If there’s major news that you need to have with your breakfast, we’ll churn out an abridged version. Otherwise, stay tuned to the BDN website for news on the budget other political developments. We will return on Monday, June 17.

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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