Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature reconvenes today at the Augusta Civic Center.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “These houses may not be beautiful, but people are living in them, and so it means at least the heating works, the electric works, the plumbing works, the sewer works, the roof may or may not need replacement,” Van Buren Town Manager Nancy Troeger said at a March 16 meeting. The town is hoping to flip tax-acquired properties on Zillow to take advantage of a booming real estate market. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
A rosy revenue projection will change the conversation in Augusta going forward. Lawmakers approved a $258 million spending reduction package in March, when revenue forecasts were still uncertain and the state faced a $650 million shortfall. Majority Democrats then approved a two-year budget over Republican protests a few weeks later, with the intent to bolster that plan once updated revenues and federal stimulus money arrived.
The Tuesday announcement that Maine’s revenue forecast committee expects this year’s revenues to increase by $462 million and next year’s to increase by $460 million — both figures exceeding pre-pandemic projections — marks a dramatic shift from the austerity conversation in Augusta. The figures are largely buoyed by federal stimulus money, with income, sales and corporate taxes that took beating in the early pandemic up much higher than earlier projections.
Gov. Janet Mills promised Tuesday to send a budget proposal to lawmakers in the coming weeks that will likely include more money for schools and health care. She has also promised at least $111 million in borrowing along with a proposal on how to spend American Rescue Plan Act funding. Unlike the last time the Democrat had a pool of pandemic money to work with, the latter proposal will be subject to legislative approval.
All of this will be top of mind for lawmakers as they reconvene today at the Augusta Civic Center. They still have a lot of work to do — a controversial proposal to reinvent Maine’s relationships with its tribes is set for a public hearing next week, something activists will be rallying for this morning. They also have to consider a set of bond proposals and various efforts to stymie Central Maine Power’s powerline project. It will make for a busy set of weeks as lawmakers try to wrap up business before the fiscal year’s end.
A top Democrat and a representative of the former Republican governor will attend a rally opposing an offshore wind plan. Fishermen will rally outside the civic center on Wednesday to protest Gov. Janet Mills’ long-term plan to create the nation’s first offshore wind research farm in the Gulf of Maine. She has proposed a 10-year moratorium on turbines in an attempt to quell concerns from the industry, but it has not worked so far.
Saying the Mills administration is “out of touch with Maine’s fishing industry,” groups including the Maine Lobstermen’s Association are teasing a rally today around 10 a.m. with speakers including Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Julie Rabinowitz on behalf of former Gov. Paul LePage. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, was on the list but cannot attend due to a scheduling conflict, his office said.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Vaccinations are high, and so are new COVID cases. Here’s a look at what’s driving that,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “These factors all present a challenge for state health officials in the days leading up to a major shift in Maine’s reopening plan. Starting Saturday, all Americans will be able to travel to Maine without having to quarantine. Businesses will soon be allowed to operate at a higher capacity as long as they follow certain public safety guidelines.”
Bangor’s mass vaccination site is set to close at the end of May as demand for vaccines wanes. A spokesperson for Northern Light Health, which operates the Cross Insurance Center mass vaccination site, said appointment bookings have slowed as Maine’s vaccination rate increases. As of Wednesday, more than 675,000 Mainers have received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, accounting for 60 percent of eligible adults. The hospital system still has plans to continue administering the vaccine in smaller settings into the summer.
The state will offer weekly COVID-19 testing to school districts. Schools have become a major source of outbreaks in the state, although transmission at schools appears to be relatively low. The Department of Health and Human Services will test many samples at once to determine quickly if there are multiple cases. Testing is voluntary and open to all K-12 schools.
Maine has loosened its face covering requirements ahead of changing travel restrictions. The altered mask mandate still applies to outdoor settings where social distancing is challenging and indoor public settings. The change comes days before Maine is set to allow travelers coming to and from Maine to do so without needing a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine ahead of the summer season.
— “Maine government website displayed mental health patients’ confidential information,” Matthew Stone, BDN: “At least 20 documents on the Maine government website contained names and, in some cases, addresses, dates of birth and phone numbers, for those receiving mental health and substance use treatment. The website is a public database where anyone can review licensing information for health care agencies overseen by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.”
— “Maine lawmakers consider banning corporate contributions to legislative campaigns,” Steve Mistler, Maine Public: “The proposal sponsored by [Jackson] and Ellsworth Sen. Louis Luchini, both Democrats, would bar corporations from making contributions directly from their general treasury to candidate campaigns or so-called leadership PACs, which are typically used by lawmakers to obtain key positions in the Legislature.”
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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