Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I think it is an important program,” Hancock County Commissioner Paul Paradis said of the recovery coaching program at the county jail, which is set to resume six months after the sheriff canceled a contract with a coaching organization over its support for the Black Lives Matter movement. “People wind up in jail probably when they hit rock bottom, and when they hit rock bottom they need help.”
What we’re watching today
The governor’s plan to tax business aid as income and her reversal has given many in Maine politics something to be mad about. Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday directed her administration to find federal funding to allow the state to forgive taxes on forgivable federal Paycheck Protection Program loans. That move, however, came just two days after her administration rolled out a tax plan that passed a sliver of a large round of federal tax breaks on to Maine businesses for state tax purposes, saying it could not bear the $100 million cost.
It was a messy political episode for the Democratic governor, who has had few of those during a mostly steady tenure. The initial plan to tax the federal loans as income provoked Republicans and the business community, who argued struggling businesses could ill afford it as the pandemic worsens. The reversal into a scramble to find $100 million could lead lobbyists for other struggling interests to conclude the budget is not as tight as it once appeared.
A Democratic lobbyist termed the plan and the reversal as a major “unforced error.” While Mills cited the inauguration of President Joe Biden, who has quickly opened up more avenues for states to seek federal money, there was no major change between Monday and Wednesday.
There were also other choices available to Mills in her two-year budget proposal of $8.4 billion. For example, the plan contains a $61 million bump in the state’s rainy day fund that has been left almost untapped during her tenure. That would bring the reserve to a record high of $320 million. Her budget increases K-12 education funding by $45 million.
Republicans have argued that Mills should fund the tax cuts with spending cuts rather than federal funding, but Wednesday marked a victory in their first real tax fight with her. At the same time, the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy, which has unsuccessfully pushed Mills to raise taxes on wealthier Mainers and hailed the initial plan, is fighting the new one. Lobbyists looking for money during this pandemic budget cycle will remember what happened this week.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Proposal from Susan Collins-led group would bar Trump from presidency,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “The wording has not been finalized and the legal theory is questionable. It is also unclear whether it would gain enough support to move forward with Democrats looking to try the former president and his fellow Republicans generally resisting it. But the development could mark a major escalation from Collins, a Republican who opposed House Democrats’ first attempt to remove the former president from office last year and has not said how she would vote in the second impeachment trial against [former President Donald] Trump to begin next month.”
The basis for barring Trump from future office by resolution traces back to part of a constitutional amendment not used since Reconstruction. A section of the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, notes that people who “shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. or “given aid or comfort” to those who did are barred from running for office unless Congress grants an exception. The provision aimed to prevent former Confederates from running for office in the aftermath of the Civil War, though it ended up being virtually useless as Congress granted wide exceptions in the name of reconciliation.
But legal scholars note there is nothing stopping it from being applied in a new context. The theory is that, if Congress passed a simple resolution saying Trump’s conduct in relation to the Jan. 6 attacks violated the 14th Amendment, it could bar him from seeking office in the future. It would likely face a court challenge and still require 60 votes in the Senate due to the filibuster, but it might be easier than convicting the former president in an impeachment trial.
— “Maine can’t gauge racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccine access,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “As a result of the state’s allocation formula, the Mainers who have been vaccinated so far skew older, with about 55 percent of first doses having gone to people over age 50. Women are more likely to have been vaccinated than men, accounting for about 68 percent of first doses and 73 percent of second doses. That is no surprise as women make up nearly 78 percent of health care workers in Maine, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.”
Maine had one of the biggest racial disparities in coronavirus cases in the U.S. during the beginning of the pandemic. The gap has changed as the virus began spreading in more predominantly white areas, but Black residents still make up 5.2 percent of coronavirus cases despite making up 1.4 percent of the population. Of those who received a vaccine and reported their race or ethnicity, 96.6 percent were white, and 1.1 percent were Black or African American.
— “Independent pharmacies playing growing role In Maine vaccine rollout,” Patty Wight, Maine Public: “Maine’s independent pharmacies are playing a growing role in administering coronavirus vaccines to the residents of long-term care facilities, after a bumpy start to a Trump administration program that enlisted two large pharmacy chains — CVS and Walgreens — to do that same work across the country.”
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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