Good morning from Augusta. Congress has seven days to pass a spending bill to avoid a federal government shutdown.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “When [a hoax call] happens it is not good,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Briana Carter said after a Thursday distress call off Spruce Head was deemed to be fake. “There are consequences for having a false distress.”
What we’re watching today
As the spending period for federal aid winds down, eyes are turning to Augusta and Washington to see what comes next with a much-reduced — but still painful — budget shortfall. Billions of dollars of federal dollars kept the state’s economy afloat and paid the bills for aspects of Maine’s coronavirus response this year, including salaries for state employees, a surge in unemployment benefit payouts and assistance for school reopening.
Experts and industry leaders are concerned about economic hardship in the coming months that could force layoffs in local and state governments as well as business closures. More Mainers are already struggling to make ends meet, with a third of adults saying in a recent Census survey that they had difficulties paying for basic expenses while 10 percent said they had not had enough to eat in the past week.
Lawmakers — including all members of Maine’s congressional delegation and Gov. Janet Mills — have advocated for additional federal aid, but it remains unclear whether Congress will reach an agreement before the end of the year. Leaders from both parties have continued talks this week, with a $908 billion proposal introduced by Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins earlier this week serving as a guidepost.
But the news has not all been bad. A revised revenue projection cut the expected shortfall down from $1.4 billion to about $650 million through 2023. Economic experts have said the road ahead is still tough, but Maine is in good financial shape to weather it. The path may lead through the state’s various reserves — credit analysts see those as a good sign that the state will be able to pay its bills, which in turn preserves its good credit rating.
It remains to be seen if Mills and the Legislature are willing to take that path. Some lawmakers have signaled borrowing and reserves should be prioritized over spending cuts, but dipping into reserves is a notoriously thorny issue. It is sure to be one of the long-running debates held this session. Here’s your soundtrack.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Portland Whole Foods workers ask courts to enforce voter-approved hazard pay initiative,” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “Workers at Whole Foods Market are striking back against a lawsuit filed by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce to overturn a voter-approved minimum wage-ordinance that would grant hazard pay to essential workers in the city during the pandemic.”
— “45 Maine communities saw their first COVID-19 cases in November,” Matt Stone, BDN: “It’s another sign that little of Maine has been spared from the coronavirus as the infection’s spread has accelerated dramatically. In November alone, Maine recorded nearly half of its total cases and saw its highest number of COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March.”
Washington, Somerset and Franklin counties are seeing some of the highest new case counts after seeing little virus activity. Only 50 of the state’s 400 ZIP codes have yet to record a virus case, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, down from 129 in mid-September.
— “Online portal crash delays start of Maine’s new business relief program,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The program is supposed to be available on a first-come, first served basis, and anyone who submitted an application before the crash should have received a confirmation email, the department said. [Department of Economic and Development spokesperson Kate] Foye said a ‘significant’ amount of funding was still available, although she did not know how many businesses had applied for funding before the application portal crashed. The crash is not expected to cause delays in awarding funds.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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