Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa of the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services is pictured near the State House in Augusta on Sept. 10. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. There are 40 days until Election Day.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s sometimes difficult to understand what people are saying [through a mask], and classes have been a lot quieter because I don’t think we really know what to do with ourselves,” said Lyndsee Reed, 16, a sophomore at Hermon High School, on how the school year has been different so far. Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

As the year enters its final quarter, Maine is still holding onto a good chunk of its federal relief money. Gov. Janet Mills has now committed roughly 90 percent of the $1.25 billion Maine received through the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, according to the state’s top budget official. With an additional $164 million announced for schools and another $10 million allocated for rental relief announced yesterday, the leftover amount is now close to $130 million. 

Time is running out to spend the money with no more aid in sight. The CARES Act stipulates that its funding could only be spent between March 1 and Dec. 30. And with the possibility of additional funding seeming dim, the state has to make hard choices on what it wants to do with the leftover money, which has specific parameters. Congress has been deadlocked on another stimulus for months and a deal looks unlikely before early November.

Mills focused on that during a Monday press call, saying the tight time frame for allocating the money “doesn’t make a lot of sense” when most state budgets go from July to June. She noted the cold winter months will bring heating challenges and will certainly cause difficulties for businesses that adapted to the coronavirus pandemic through outdoor seating, and reiterated that more funding and flexibility on those funds is crucial to survive the economic downturn.

The budget commissioner told the legislative budget committee yesterday that there are a few places where Maine is considering putting the rest of the money. While no decision has been finalized, Kirsten Figueroa, Mills’ budget commissioner, said additional testing — especially for those in higher education and primary school — was a “top priority.” 

She also said more money for businesses could be possible, depending on how a second round of recovery grants go. She added that whatever choices the state makes may not be enough to mitigate the pandemic’s impact, saying we “haven’t yet met any one need in full” so far.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine House candidate fostered a ‘hostile’ workplace at sexual assault agency, former staff say,” Callie Ferguson and Erin Rhoda, Bangor Daily News: “Seven former employees and one former intern at Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine spoke to the Bangor Daily News about their experiences working for [Democratic legislative candidate Melanie] Sachs, describing how she yelled at them, slammed doors, got angry when staff asked questions about their jobs and cut benefits for staff mental health. In response, some staff members worked out plans to never end up alone with her and recorded their interactions with her, several said.”

— “Where Maine’s US Senate candidates stand on foreign policy in an inwardly focused race,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The fourth-term incumbent, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has a long and developed record on the issue. Predictably, House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, and independents Max Linn and Lisa Savage have less-fleshed-out foreign policy stances. They have generally discussed them little in this inwardly focused election year.”

The Democratic nominee is wary of a plan floated by some progressives to add justices to the Supreme Court next year. Gideon told Politico she had “doubts” as to whether court packing would “help us return the judiciary to an independent body free from politics.” The idea has been floated by progressives as Republicans look primed to soon advance a Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg despite resistance from Collins, but Democrats may not have the votes to do it even if they win the presidency and the Senate.

— “Donald Trump Jr. stirs GOP base while stumping in Holden on Wednesday,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “A Wednesday visit to Maine by Donald Trump Jr. was mostly a base-rallying effort aiming to draw distinctions between his family and that of former Vice President Joe Biden as he stumped for a congressional candidate in the swing 2nd Congressional District.”

Maine’s junior senator issued a warning that we may not know the winner of the presidential election for days. In a Time magazine opinion pieced, Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, notes that the increased number of absentee and mail-in ballots will take more time to count, which “doesn’t mean that mail-in ballots are fraudulent (they’re not), or that foul play is afoot (it isn’t).” He is referencing the presidential election, but we are only expecting slight delays in Maine barring any court-ordered changes to the system.

Trump’s national security adviser is planning an unusual October visit to Maine to outline a plan for a bigger Navy. The scheduled October visit to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery by Robert O’Brien was called “highly unusual” by Politico, which reported it on Tuesday. It comes after President Donald Trump’s national security adviser had pushed for a bigger Navy to counter China, a goal the Defense Department has resisted in recent years.

The shipyard employs 8,000 and lies on the border between Maine and New Hampshire, both of which the Republican president is targeting in the 2020 election with Biden. The long-standing goal to raise the Navy fleet from 296 ships to 355 ships has been supported by Maine’s congressional delegation, but the requisite money has not followed. Billions may now.

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...