Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature will vote on a two-year budget today at the Augusta Civic Center.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s just astronomically expensive to keep yourself up to speed in these smaller towns,” Levant Town Manager Scott Pullen said of why more Maine towns are turning to regional firefighting agreements as volunteer firefighters are increasingly hard to come by. “To do it safely, it just requires a lot of time and a lot of money.”
What we’re watching today
The vote on a two-year budget in Augusta today will set the tone for the remainder of the session. There does not seem to be much drama on tap for Tuesday as Democrats are primed to pass their $8.3 billion, two-year budget along party lines and over objections from Republicans. Democrats moved to pass a budget largely in line with current spending — though it is higher than the last $8 billion budget — after Republicans took negotiations on a short-term spending plan to the brink this month before standing down on more business tax breaks.
Nothing seems to have changed since last week. Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said Monday that the two parties had not spoken over the weekend after the budget panel advanced the document. He attempted to introduce a bill that would require any spending for the rest of the session to get a two-thirds vote, but he was told it was too late to accept it.
A Saturday letter from House Republicans to House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford asked him to slow down and work with the minority party further. But Fecteau indicated in a Monday response that he would be holding the line, urging Republicans to support the budget so policy work could continue immediately. A majority vote means lawmakers would have to technically adjourn for 2021, but they are assured to come back in a special session.
Republicans could have little power as budgeting plays out for the rest of the year. More than $1 billion in discretionary aid coming to the state in the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill could be subject to simple majority votes as well. Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, a co-chair of the budget committee, said Monday it was too early to know whether that money would be incorporated as a supplemental budget — which would require two-thirds votes only if it must pass immediately into law — or individual bills that could pass in majority votes.
It all adds up to an environment in which Democrats need to work with the minority party even less going forward. The rancor could mean that Republicans will hold up items in an upcoming incoming bond package from Gov. Janet Mills, which needs two-thirds votes to go to voters. But there could also be less need for borrowing by that point.
Another $120 million alone is coming to Maine for broadband and potentially more as President Joe Biden pushes an infrastructure package. State budget projections also look to be on the upswing, with the state’s economic forecasting commission set to update their forecast today at 12:30 p.m. as the budget rolls on.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine gets record number of COVID-19 vaccines this week,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The 23,370 doses going to Maine pharmacies this week come on top of the 45,200 doses the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced for hospitals and other sites last week. That total of 68,500 doses is more than Maine has received in any week so far, exceeding the 55,000 doses the state saw in early March when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was first approved.”
— “Effort to bar non-citizens from voting in local elections fails to make Maine ballot,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The referendum push led by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, and a national interest group had little room for error as proponents submitted just over 66,000 signatures, only 3,300 more than it needed to make the ballot. But more than 25,000 — a staggering sum — were found invalid, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said Monday. Half were nullified because they were not certified as belonging to a registered voter in the municipality.”
— “Environmental groups target CMP corridor’s presidential permit in new court filing,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “The Appalachian Mountain Club, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club Maine said the department erred in issuing the presidential permit for the New England Clean Energy Connect project without first allowing for public comment and not thoroughly assessing the environmental impact in a new motion with the U.S. District Court in Maine. The groups said the department conducted multiple public hearings and more rigorous reviews for similar projects in Vermont and New Hampshire.”
Lawmakers said a key corridor lease requires legislative approval in a new letter criticizing state negotiations with Central Maine Power. In a Friday letter to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, 11 of the 12 members of the committee overseeing the agency accused it of undermining its stance that a key lease granted to CMP on public land for the corridor should have been subject to legislative approval. Opponents of the project are making that claim in court now after the Mills administration renegotiated the lease in June 2020. Rep. Maggie O’Neil, D-Saco, criticized the past two administrations for “secret, backroom deals” with CMP over the lease.
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.
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