Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature will vote on a two-year budget in four days.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There’s a lot of support for it,” said Jean Bourg, 75, a retired computer programmer, said of the effort to create a new library in Unity after the current one has been closed for a year. “We love libraries. It’s a great project …. It takes a lot to go from zero to a library, and it’s our way of not wasting pandemic time.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
The Legislature’s watchdog panel will weigh whether a company it has worked with for years needs to be investigated. The effort to fix Maine’s antiquated HR system dates back to 2016. Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage had originally selected a different vendor then, but contracted with WorkDay, Inc. in 2018 after that vendor failed to deliver a product. It was supposed to go online last summer, but it has been delayed ever since and relations between the company and the state have hit a breaking point.
Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa sent a Feb. 25 letter to the company saying the company had broken its contract after it refused to continue its work on Feb. 12. Emails between state procurement officials and the company provided by DAFS spokesperson Kelsey Goldsmith show both sides expressing frustration with the other. If the issues are not resolved, the state will seek a $22 million refund for the work.
A $4.6 million provision in the supplemental budget to continue work on the project caught the eye of Rep. Justin Fecteau, R-Augusta, during a March 4 budget committee meeting. Fecteau refused to support the budget, saying the project could be a candidate for waste and fraud.
He also alleged sexual misconduct had taken place, although he has declined to expand upon those allegations since. Goldsmith has said it had not heard of those allegations prior to Fecteau’s statement, but was planning to launch a full investigation. The Government Oversight Committee will have to weigh those issues when it discusses Fecteau’s request for an investigation today at 9 a.m.
Correction: A previous version of this item misstated the length of time Maine has been contracted with WorkDay.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine Democrats rush $8.3B budget through committee vote over GOP opposition,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Two-year spending plans typically pass in Augusta with two-thirds votes in both chambers, necessitating grand bargains between the parties typically not resolved until shortly before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. But Democrats are going it alone while arguing that protracted negotiations would cause anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Democrats stripped a new streaming services tax from the final version of the budget. The fast-tracked budget bill from legislative Democrats and Gov. Janet Mills initially included a new $9.8 million tax on streaming services that the administration has floated before, though the governor proposed offsets to it when she put it in her 2019 budget proposal. After Republicans pointed to it as a violation of her campaign pledge to not raise taxes, Democrats removed it in the version advanced by the budget committee along party lines on Friday.
— “A prosecutor worried he wasn’t credible. Then Millinocket hired him as police chief,” Josh Keefe, BDN: “The town didn’t mention that [former Millinocket Police Chief Craig] Worster had worked as a sergeant for the Wiscasset Police Department just months before. And it didn’t say that days after Worster left that job in December 2018, the local district attorney’s office took the unusual step of presenting information to a defendant that called Worster’s credibility as a court witness into question.”
— “Maine health centers get $41M in federal money to accelerate COVID-19 efforts,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The aid for 18 Maine providers comes as part of a $10 billion for Federally Qualified Health Centers across the U.S. that passed as part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package earlier this month. Community health centers, which predominantly serve seniors and low-income people, have been key to Maine’s early vaccine rollout in rural areas, helping reach patients not served by any of the state’s half dozen mass vaccination sites.”
Maine is receiving more coronavirus vaccines next week, but small pharmacies will be left out. The state will receive 45,000 new first doses next week as part of a one-time increase in availability of the Pfizer vaccine, with additional doses likely for retail pharmacies and Federally Qualified Health Centers. But a lower-than-expected allocation of one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines has the state holding off on additional clinics at independent pharmacies after they played a significant role in early vaccine distribution at long-term care facilities.
Hydro-Quebec staffs up PR team ahead of referendum fight
The provincial-owned utility is bringing on three veteran Maine operatives to expand its messaging operation around the Central Maine Power corridor. Hydro-Quebec has been employing Forbes Tate Partners, a Washington, D.C., lobbying shop, since last year to gauge support for the $1 billion corridor project that has been the subject of a long public-relations campaign. The firm expanded this month by signing on three Maine operatives among seven new hires on the effort, according to federal filings first reported by Foreign Lobby.
They include former George W. Bush administration official Kathie Summers-Grice of Cumberland, former Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and Crystal Canney, who was a spokesperson for Sen. Angus King and Gov. John Baldacci. Mason is the only one of those three who indicated he will be working full-time on the effort.
Much of Hydro-Quebec’s spending must be disclosed to state campaign finance regulators, but only that which explicitly deals with the campaign on an anti-corridor referendum question set for the 2021 ballot. Other activity in support of the project must be disclosed to the federal government since Hydro-Quebec is a foreign entity.
It also comes as Maine lawmakers consider three bills aimed at keeping foreign entities from spending money to influence elections. Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, a top corridor opponent who is sponsoring one of those proposals, said the hiring of new operatives made clear that the Legislature must close a “gaping loophole.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews 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.