Good morning from Augusta. There are 12 days left until the new Maine Legislature convenes.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’” said Bangor code enforcement officer Jeff Wallace, equating the 1993 movie in which a TV weatherman must relive the same day repeatedly to his job of following up on possible coronavirus safety violations. “Here’s today’s list of complaints. Let’s hit the road.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Maine tax revenue has beat dismal projections, but lawmakers may not have much more to spend as they mull a two-year budget. New October revenue figures released by the state on Thursday brought good and bad news during the coronavirus-induced recession. While Maine brought in $146 million more than it expected to during the first four months of the new fiscal year starting in June, that total remained down from the same period in 2019.
A new long-term revenue forecast will come after Thanksgiving. These figures are being watched as closely as ever after the virus turned a solid economy into an anemic one virtually overnight when the pandemic set in this spring. Gov. Janet Mills and the new Legislature will begin negotiating a two-year budget in January and these forecasts will frame the ultimate price tag.
Mills, a Democrat, has proposed $256 million in cost-savings measures for this fiscal year. It looks likely that the next budget will reduce year-over-year spending for the first time since the Great Recession. Many legislative Democrats and virtually all Republicans are ruling out tax increases as a means of closing a projected $1.4 billion shortfall over three years.
It leaves spending cuts and uncertain future aid from Congress as the only major way to close budget gaps in Maine and other states that have been tided over early in the pandemic by stimulus programs including extended unemployment benefits. The state expects revenue to decline through the year’s end as the last of those early-pandemic programs run out, including jobless benefits for some 35,000 Mainers as virus cases skyrocket here and nationally.
So while our rosier revenue picture helps things, there is likely to be a lot more economic pain between now and January to the point where it’s unclear how much of that $146 million above projections will be available to policymakers by January. The situation is highly volatile.
The Maine politics top 3
— “What Maine’s congressional delegation wants in a stalled virus aid package,” Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Members of Maine’s congressional delegation showed somewhat more consensus, but still outlined different priorities, with Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, advocating another round of forgivable loans that she championed through the Paycheck Protection Program for hard-hit businesses, while Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District and the most liberal member of the delegation, pointing to unemployment benefits and mortgage forbearance.”
— “5 numbers that show just how bad the coronavirus has gotten in Maine,” Charles Eichacker, BDN: “Although Maine continues to look better than many other states on some key measures after keeping the virus mostly at bay during the summer and early fall, it’s still a perilous moment. And it’s been particularly perilous over the past three weeks in particular, as Maine has continued to see new daily cases in the triple digits.”
The speed at which the virus has spread is among the most concerning metrics. We found the period of time at which new cases reached increments of 1,000 to have shortened dramatically this fall, and that a third of the state’s overall cases have been documented in November, a likely result of people congregating indoors due to the colder weather. With the holiday season set to begin next week, there is a major risk of cases rising.
— “Janet Mills issues business curfew as coronavirus cases rise,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Starting Friday through Sunday, Dec. 6, all outdoor and indoor amusement venues, movie theaters, performing arts venues, casinos and businesses that provide seated food and drink service will need to close for the night by 9 p.m. That includes social clubs, restaurants, and bars and tasting rooms currently open for outdoor service.”
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 email@example.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.
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