Good morning from Augusta. There are five days until President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “[The city manager] went out of his way to make my life difficult,” said Peter Harris, the former Eastport police chief who the city council voted to reinstate after the city manager fired him last year. “I believe he was abusing his authority.”
What we’re watching today
Another stimulus package could be on the way in the coming weeks, if Congress can find the votes. President-elect Joe Biden rolled out a $1.9 trillion proposal Thursday that includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, extended unemployment benefits, money for vaccines, child care assistance, state and local government aid, an expanded child tax credit, housing assistance, grants for hard-hit small businesses and a $15 minimum wage.
Such a bill would have major implications in Maine, where Gov. Janet Mills’ new two-year budget was crafted without assuming additional aid and about 27 percent of households are currently struggling to pay basic expenses, according to a Census survey. That high share has nonetheless been one of the lowest among states in recent weeks. State and local aid has been a top priority for Mills and Maine’s congressional delegation.
But Biden’s proposal is unlikely to pass in its current form. The Democratic president-elect has indicated that he does not plan to use the budget reconciliation process to pass it on a majority basis, meaning the bill would require 60 votes in the Senate to defeat the filibuster. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who Biden will be looking to woo on legislation, has been an advocate for state and local aid unlike most in her party and has backed larger stimulus payments.
There are other aspects of the bill that Collins seems likely to balk at. The last time Congress debated raising the federal minimum wage in earnest, in 2014, Collins supported an increase from the current hourly $7.25 but thought Democrats’ proposed $10.10 was too high. Maine has raised its minimum wage to $12.15 since then, but $15 might be a stretch for her. It’s not clear that a $15 minimum wage would garner unanimous support among Democrats either.
Other changes are likely too, as the president-elect would need a group of Republicans to get any package through. Negotiations could pick up in earnest after Biden’s inauguration next week, but the aid package is expected to be among the first orders of business alongside the impeachment trial of outgoing President Donald Trump and consideration of Biden appointees.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine wants to pay landowners to fight climate change with their trees,” Josh Keefe, Bangor Daily News: “In December, the Maine Climate Council, a panel convened by Gov. Janet Mills to create a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, called for the formation of a group to develop a voluntary forest carbon program. The program would provide financial incentives for the state’s 86,000 woodland owners with between 10 and 10,000 acres to ‘increase carbon storage in Maine’s forests’ while ‘maintaining current timber harvest levels.’ The state has not yet taken steps to convene the group.”
— “EMMC’s COVID-19 patient numbers are declining because they’re dying,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “EMMC had the majority of the 50 coronavirus patients in the Northern Light hospital system on Thursday, while Mercy Hospital in Portland had 13. A.R. Gould in Presque Isle and Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield were each treating three, while Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth — which was contending with a newly reported outbreak — had two, and Mayo Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft had one.”
Vaccinations for the general population of Mainers 70 and older will begin next week. That comes after new federal guidelines and an expected increase in doses led Mills to open vaccines to move on Wednesday to open vaccines to a population of roughly 193,000 people. The move will kick an effective but relatively limited effort into high gear quickly. State officials advise that people 70 or older call their health provider to get scheduled and check the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ website for information starting Monday, though Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent began taking calls for vaccine slots on Wednesday.
— “What Maine small businesses need to know to get a new federal loan,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “New borrowers were able to start applying Monday for loans at smaller community financial institutions with less than $1 billion in average total assets over the previous three years. Businesses that got loans last year can apply starting Wednesday for a second loan. Banks and credit unions with $1 billion or less in assets can start offering the loans Friday, and the larger financial institutions can offer them starting next Tuesday. The deadline for both first and return borrowers to apply is March 31.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. 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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