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Sawin Millett represents District 71 in the Maine House of Representatives. He has served as commissioner of education, finance and administration, and associate commissioner of the Department of Mental Health. Paul Davis represents District 4 in the Maine Senate. He is a former Senate Republican leader and a former state trooper.
The recent move by legislative Democrats, with support by Gov. Janet Mills, to pass a “majority budget,” months before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in June, is an affront to Maine citizens expecting their elected leaders to work together. It is a disgusting display of raw power more suited to the toxic national political climate than Maine.
It will result in over 400 Maine towns and cities, represented by Republicans in the Legislature, being shut out of the traditional budget process for only the third time in 70 years.
Here is how their scheme works to remove the two-thirds requirement on the budget vote:
They pass a biennial budget “concept draft,” based on a one-page document produced 15 minutes before an Appropriations Committee vote and without a public hearing.
They vote to carry over more than 1,700 unfinished items until the next scheduled session (usually in January).
In order for their partial “budget” to take effect July 1, they need a required 90 days to elapse after the Legislature has adjourned.
To achieve this, they will officially adjourn the First Regular Session of the 130th Legislature after convening only four times.
Having signaled that their work is done, they will then attempt to get Republicans to support going back into a special session later this year, even though they just voted to finish their work for the year.
When that vote likely fails, they will blame Republicans and call on Mills to bring the Legislature back into session, where they take up all the unfinished items. They will not have to talk to Republicans at all.
The Democrats’ stated reason for this sham budget process is that there is an emergency and they cannot risk having Republicans shut down the government in June. They also need “predictability.”
These claims defy logic based on our recent history of working cooperatively together to achieve budgets that have support from Republicans and Democrats representing all of Maine.
A couple of weeks ago, we passed a supplemental budget unanimously in the Senate and 139-1 in the House. The Legislature received praise from the press and public for working together during a tough time for the good of Maine.
That is the way it should be. We all supported employers, employees, direct care workers, and those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The bipartisan budget provided many others with needed assistance, from all of us, working together.
Nothing in their one page “budget” document constitutes an emergency needing action next week. The Appropriations Committee, which we both serve on, is not even close to completing our work. Budgets are typically more than 500 pages, include work on thousands of line items and more than a months’ work from the 16 policy committees. All of the work done to date will be ignored in the rush to pass something by March 31.
We are expecting to hear from the Consensus Forecasting Commission in the next week or so, and the Revenue Forecasting Committee by the end of April. We are also awaiting details on the American Rescue Plan federal relief funds that Maine will receive, including amounts and what the funds can be used for.
Reasonable people would wait until we receive this information, rather than rushing ahead and shutting nearly half of Maine’s elected officials out of the process.
The bipartisan budgets that Maine routinely passes require compromise in order to ensure all Mainers benefit. That is why Maine’s Constitution is set up to include checks and balances. This helps ensure that would-be dictators, or narrow partisan factions, do not ride roughshod over the rights of minorities.
This session there has been a lot of talk coming from Democrats on being more inclusive and protecting the rights of minorities. This extreme departure from the traditionally inclusive legislative budget process runs completely counter to that.
What we have here is a narrow majority trampling on the rights of a significant minority of people wanting to participate in their government. Reasonable people want both political parties to stop trying to score cheap political points and work on behalf of everyone.
Yes, we can and should disagree on major points. However, we also need to work together or Maine will suffer.