Lawmakers convene in the House Chamber at the State House in Augusta in this March 17, 2020, file photo. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. The Bangor Daily News is collecting information from readers on the political issues at the top of your minds in 2020. Take our survey here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “[Students] learn things working in the fields that they are not going to learn in school,” Mark Stanley, principal of Easton Junior/Senior High School, said of the district’s enduring tradition of having students take in the potato harvest. “That has a huge educational benefit even if it’s not something that we can put down in a grade book.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The Legislature’s appropriations committee is set to hear about the effects of the pandemic on local government today. State and municipal budgets have been hit hard as the coronavirus outbreak has sapped tax revenues, forcing some cities and towns to lay off workers and jeopardizing some local services. Lawmakers will get an update on the state’s revenue forecast and discuss the state’s plans to allocate coronavirus relief funding, as well as here from representatives from the Maine Municipal Association and other groups.

Additional aid to state and local governments has been discussed as part of another federal stimulus package, though it was not included as part of a proposal introduced by Senate Republicans last week. House Democrats passed their own plan, including massive funding for municipalities, back in May. Negotiations are expected to continue this week.

Absent additional federal funding, state and local governments will be forced to work just with the $1.2 billion that Maine received as part of a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill that passed in March. That money came with significant strings attached, as it could only be used for purposes directly linked to the coronavirus pandemic, and generally not to backfill revenue shortages. 

So far, the state has used some of that money to replenish its unemployment trust fund and set aside some for towns to get matching federal grants to address virus-related expenses. Local aid is still a top priority for governors and lawmakers in both parties, but it is not a sure thing.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Mainers fear the worst after political stalemate leads to end of unemployment bonus,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “Congress ended the week without an agreement on a coronavirus aid package, leaving the economy without one key stimulus program and many Mainers wondering whether they will be able to pay rent or keep their businesses.”

There are many indicators pointing to a difficult period absent more federal aid. Friday’s scheduled sunset of $600 in a weekly unemployment bonus when jobless claims remain high and a decline in consumer spending dampens the economy. Maine stands to lose 12,000 more jobs over a year if federal benefits are cut by $400, according to the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. Businesses that could benefit from another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans are also being forced to wait.

— “Susan Collins blames Senate Democrats over failure to reach virus aid deal,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “U.S. Sen. Susan Collins blamed Democrats on Friday for not accepting a last-minute one-week extension of $600 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits after the Senate left for the weekend before reaching a deal on a coronavirus aid package.”

Who’s to blame? Collins chiefly placed blame on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, after Democrats blocked a one-week extension of the $600 as the Senate was preparing to leave on Thursday. Schumer has been spending some political capital to repeal a state and local tax deduction cap — a move that would largely benefit wealthy taxpayers in his state. On the other hand, Republicans waited until last week to unveil their virus relief plan after House Democrats passed a massive one in mid-May.

Collins lost a labor endorsement that she won in 2014. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, was endorsed on Friday by the 5,000-member Maine State Council of Machinists, which includes two unions at Bath Iron Works. A labor group endorsing a Democrat would not be newsworthy except for the fact that Collins won the backing of this group and several other unions en route to her landslide victory in 2014. The incumbent is now seeing things flip along those old party lines as her race becomes one of the top targets in the 2020 election.

— “Maine tribes and Janet Mills struggle to compromise on sweeping sovereignty measure,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “The fate of a complicated tribal sovereignty proposal looked grim on Friday, when frustrated tribal leaders reported only scant agreement with Maine Gov. Janet Mills on the measure and no guarantee lawmakers will return in 2020 to vote on it.”

Bill to extend alcohol to-go abilities breezes through committee

There isn’t much legislation being introduced these days, but this one cleared hurdles quickly. The bill from Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, would extend restaurants and bars’ ability to sell to-go alcohol through April 2022, an ability the industry gained through a March executive order from Gov. Janet Mills. Although the likelihood of the Legislature returning seems to dwindle every day, the bill got unanimous support from the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee the same day it was introduced, a good sign for those who prefer to skip the bar.

Dale Crafts picks up presidential endorsement

The Republican running in Maine’s 2nd District picked up a significant, albeit unsurprising, endorsement this weekend. In a late-night tweet on Saturday, President Donald Trump threw his support behind Dale Crafts, the former state representative from Lisbon who is challenging Rep. Jared Golden, a freshman Democrat from Lewiston.

Trump’s endorsement could be influential in a district the president won by 10 points in 2016, and support from national Republicans could help Crafts with fundraising, something the Lisbon businessman struggled with during the primary. But Trump also seems unlikely to repeat his 2016 performance this year — a Colby College poll last week showed him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, 45 percent to 42 percent in the 2nd District.

That same poll showed Golden with a 45 percent to 33 percent lead in the congressional race. Expect Crafts to pick up some support as the election draws closer and the Republican challenger increases his name recognition, but the numbers are still a good sign for Golden, who is one of national Republicans’ top targets this fall.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...