Good morning from Augusta. The Daily Brief will take a hiatus from Wednesday, Nov. 25, through the end of the week before picking back up next Monday. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I hope to God they find them,” said Rink Varian, owner of the Portland-based Emmy Rose, which went missing off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, Monday morning. “I just want to go on record saying this wasn’t because they weren’t an experienced crew. That wasn’t it. These guys were very experienced. They were the best.”
What we’re watching today
Maine set a record for daily coronavirus deaths heading into the Thanksgiving holiday. Twelve more Mainers died from the virus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday morning, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 189. The agency also reported a record 258 new cases of the virus.
The virus is spreading across the state, with new cases reported in 15 of 16 counties. The seven-day statewide average for new coronavirus cases is 208, up from 191 a week ago and 37 a month ago. The new deaths included residents of Androscoggin, Franklin, Somerset, Washington and York counties. Virus-related hospitalizations topped 100 for the first time this weekend.
As bad as Maine’s coronavirus picture has gotten, it is still not nearly as bad as outbreaks in many other states. South Dakota, for instance, which has a smaller population than Maine, reported 42 deaths in a single day this weekend.
That Maine is doing better than other states should not be a cause for solace or premature congratulations, but rather a reminder that — despite the poor turn that the coronavirus situation here has taken in the past month — it still could get a lot worse depending on what comes next. State health officials have urged caution over the upcoming holiday, with concerns that interstate travel or family gatherings could prompt further spread.
The state got a major reprieve in a new budget forecast on Monday, but the virus recession is still hitting hard. A new round of projections from the Maine Revenue Forecasting Committee on Monday found that state tax revenue is expected to smash estimates revised downward due to the pandemic. After projecting a $1.4 billion shortfall over three budget years, the panel now pegs the budget gap at roughly $400 million, Maine Public reported.
That is due to $764 million in higher than expected revenue, plus a large round of cost-savings measures instituted by Mills for the current budget year. However, these projections are highly volatile and even this smaller shortfall could exceed the one faced by the state in the Great Recession. There will be pain in budget negotiations this year.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Trump’s proposed Afghanistan drawdown divides Maine congressional delegation,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, criticized the president’s plan to withdraw thousands of soldiers in the final months of his presidency. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, endorsed the Republican president’s plan, while Rep. Chellie Pingree characterized it as a step in the right direction.”
These stances are in keeping with Maine politicians’ varied histories on war. Foreign policy once took on greater significance in Maine politics than it has in recent years, with issues like taxes and health care taking greater electoral significance, though some of Trump’s foreign policy moves got pushback from Maine’s delegation.
Potential U.S. involvement in Iraq, for instance, was the central issue of the 2002 U.S. Senate race between Collins and Pingree. The Republican incumbent joined wide majorities in both houses of Congress to support a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, while her Democratic challenger, who was a sitting state senator at the time, opposed it.
— “Democratic dark-money network put $4M into early anti-Susan Collins effort,” Piper, BDN: “Connections between Sixteen Thirty Fund and several left-leaning groups in Maine were reported last year, though all of the amounts of money were not clear at the time. The nonprofit’s tax returns, filed last week and first reported by Politico, show about $4.2 million in contributions to several Maine groups in the 2019 fiscal year. It raised $140 million overall.”
King will remain as Maine’s junior senator after getting passed over for director of national intelligence. In a large round of announcements on key staff on Monday, President-elect Joe Biden said he would nominate Avril Haines, a former deputy CIA director, to be director of national intell igence. That was of interest to Maine observers because Politico reported earlier this month that King was being considered for the position. He praised Haines’ nomination in a statement to Maine Public, saying Haines is smart and experienced.
An outgoing lawmaker is aiming to be the next Maine Democratic Party chair. The party is set to get new leadership after Kathleen Marra told the Sun Journal that she is moving to Rhode Island after one term in the party’s top spot. The newspaper reported that Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, is the only declared candidate to replace her. He co-chaired the Legislature’s budget committee and is reasonably popular among observers across the spectrum of the party.
— “Northern Light saw revenue drop $100M as hospitals stopped services during pandemic,” Charles Eichacker, BDN: “The two credit rating agencies, S&P and Moody’s Investors Service, have both reaffirmed their overall scores of the ability of Northern Light Health to pay back its long-term debt, but Moody’s has changed its outlook for the organization from ‘stable’ to ‘negative,’ based on the possibility that reduced cash flow could make it harder for the organization to meet its debt obligations.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email firstname.lastname@example.org (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.
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