Good (foggy) morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We actually bought two gorilla suits,” filmmaker Nathaniel Brislin said about his documentary on Mainers’ experiences with Bigfoot, “and did some b-roll shooting.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we are watching today
After scrambling to pass a short-term budget two weeks ago, Maine Democrats are preparing to go it alone on the next two-year budget. Leaders of the majority party in Augusta announced Monday that the Legislature will vote by next week on a slightly pared-down version of Gov. Janet Mills’ two-year budget proposal. A vote before April 1 would give Democrats enough time to let the budget pass into law without the regular two-thirds votes in both chambers, avoiding the need for Republicans to get on board.
Democrats are couching it as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. The governor has endorsed the idea of passing the budget ahead before the state receives $1 billion in federal stimulus funds and having the Legislature pass another budget adjustment later this year. Republicans, however, are angry that they are being bypassed, because the two-thirds budget threshold is one of the top things making the minority party relevant in the State House.
It comes after the Legislature approved a short-term budget deal that nearly broke down before Republicans dropped a demand for further business tax breaks. Negotiations ended in an early-morning vote, with both parties congratulating themselves on the bipartisan solution, but it certainly portended tough negotiations on Mills’ $8.4 billion two-year budget proposal.
Relations between the parties are at a nadir. It was not at all clear until Monday that Democrats would pursue a majority budget, something conservatives have feared in recent years after they won outright control of Augusta in 2018. The last time a two-year budget passed by a simple majority was in 2005. Republicans did a short-term budget by a majority in 2012 under former Gov. Paul LePage during their two years of control.
Democrats say their $8.2 billion budget — which funds government agencies but strips new initiatives aside from increasing education and teacher retirement spending — will provide predictability during the pandemic. But it is also a power play that will leave Republicans in a weaker position in negotiations later on as federal money comes in as they advance more proposals seeking to repeal Mills’ emergency powers to manage the pandemic.
In a Monday letter, the governor called for a bipartisan vote on the baseline budget ahead of more changes due to the stimulus. Democrats say they want one, too. But that is highly unlikely as we enter a contentious spring with more budget battles to come.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine’s step toward removing Kennebec dams pits Janet Mills against power giant,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The proposed change from the Maine Department of Marine Resources is aimed at allowing species of fish — including the endangered Atlantic salmon — to reach upstream spawning grounds. It comes as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is doing a licensing review of the Shawmut Dam in Fairfield, one of four dams the state wants removed.”
Two Republican lawmakers accused the state of downplaying the implications of the rulemaking process. Sens. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, and Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, questioned in a March 20 letter to Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher the state’s assertion that the amendment to the Kennebec River plan would be “just a document.” Federal energy regulators weigh state plans when considering dam licensing renewals, which would give the state’s preference for removal more weight. The senators asked the state to “immediately” halt the rule-making process and to publicize the importance the change could have on federal oversight of Maine dams.
— “Man accused of attacking Asian woman and her daughter in Portland charged with hate crime,” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “The woman, who is not named in the complaint, was in her vehicle with her 12-year-old daughter waiting for oil service on Forest Avenue when Troy Sprague, 47, and began swearing at her to ‘go back to your country,’ according to the complaint. Sprague, who is white, jumped over a guard rail and began kicking the woman’s partially open window, damaging her side mirror and causing debris to fly into her car and strike her daughter.”
— “Angus King: $120M in stimulus money for Maine broadband will be ‘transformational,’” Lori Valigra, BDN: “The money puts Maine, which is planning several efforts to get broadband to underserved areas, in the unusual position of suddenly being awash with money. The questions that the senator and broadband experts discussed on a webinar Monday included how to best put the money to work and how to assure that new infrastructure withstands the test of time.”
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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