Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature convenes at 10 a.m. for its second round of supplemental budget discussions.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If we need a bill, if we don’t need a bill — figure out what we need to fix it, Mr. President, thank you,” Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, said, venting his frustration about lawmakers’ $32 stipend not being large enough to cover an Augusta-area hotel after debate on the supplemental budget. Assistant Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, offered to let any lawmakers stay at his place for free. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we are watching today
Budget discussions in the Legislature ended with just enough votes to advance a key spending measure. The 9 p.m. vote in the Senate to send the $258 million reduction package back to the House today was made possible by two Republican defections. It would not have happened if Democrats had not brokered a deal to get $113,000 in veterans’ funding back into the budget, a provision led by Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock. Its inclusion sealed his vote.
The decision was notable because the Legislature’s budget committee accepted almost all of Gov. Janet Mills’ curtailments last week, save for some funding for nursing homes and certain health providers. Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, said Wednesday night choosing ones to put back in would be like “opening Pandora’s box.” But the calculus was different with passage on the line.
“When this came up, we were like, ‘If that’s what it’s going to take to pass this, then OK,’” she said.
It will be harder to make those deals in the more unpredictable House today. Depending on attendance, Democrats will need to win over roughly 17 Republicans. The minority party was unified in opposition to the budget deal before the Senate passed the Farrin-approved version. House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, has a bevy of amendments related to the tax conformity issues Republicans want, ensuring each one will have to be voted on.
Those odds are “not great” for the supplemental, Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, conceded Wednesday night, but he said he was hopeful the veterans’ funding — and the agreement both sides generally have on the rest of the supplemental — will provide incentive for Republicans who would otherwise vote it down.
Democrats and Farrin will look to House members of the veterans’ committee — which supported the funding restorations unanimously — for some votes, but they will need more. Much is riding on a deal with certain companies facing a Monday tax deadline. Complicating matters, the Legislature only has the Augusta Civic Center reserved for votes through today.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine’s Golden is lone Democrat to vote down COVID-19 bill,” Patrick Whittle, Associated Press: “I know there are people who will continue to need assistance getting through the final stages of this pandemic, which is why I have argued that Congress should have addressed their needs with a targeted bill that extends unemployment benefits, funds vaccine distribution, and increases investments in our public health infrastructure,” U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District said in a statement.
The bill passed the House anyhow and now heads to the White House for a signature. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it on Friday. The package includes a range of Democratic priorities, including $1,400 stimulus checks, money for schools, funding for vaccine distribution, extended unemployment benefits, a child tax credit and aid to state and local governments with more than $6 billion likely headed to Maine under the measure, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy. It could take weeks for much of the funds to get out, but stimulus checks could be distributed beginning as early as next week.
— “The pandemic has turned Maine’s restaurant capital into a ‘shattered dream’,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “The pandemic was not the economy-wide disaster that many feared early on, but it devastated the hospitality sector. While Maine gained revenue in December 2020 compared to the same month in the previous year and some sectors saw large jumps, restaurant taxable sales declined 25 percent. The hospitality industry, which includes restaurants and hotels, contributed an estimated $5.2 billion in revenue to the state’s economy in 2020, 25 percent below 2018, a University of Maine study found.”
— “Democrats vote down GOP bid to strip Janet Mills of pandemic emergency powers,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “All states also declared emergencies at the beginning of the pandemic. Only two states have no such order in place now, but some southern governors have set their orders to end this month or next month, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Mills has extended Maine’s order 12 times since mid-March of last year.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews. 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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