Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We basically gave up any hope he would become proficient,” Hancock County Commissioner William Clark said after county Treasurer Michael Boucher, who was elected as write-in candidate in 2018, refused on-the-job training despite having no financial background. “He just didn’t want to work for [county Administrator] Scott [Adkins]. He doesn’t come in [to work much]. He doesn’t do anything.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Lawmakers are gearing up for their third round of budget negotiations this year, with the minority party releasing an ambitious spending agenda. We are still waiting to see what Gov. Janet Mills’ revised two-year budget will look like, but she has promised her package will focus on health care and school spending, along with some ambitious bonding proposals.
Budget talks this year have been largely overshadowed by a degree of uncertainty — it was likely that revenue projections would improve as the economy recovers and the possibility of another federal aid package seemed certain. With an estimated $6 billion in federal aid expected to come to Maine through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and rosy revenue projections in hand putting things firmly in the black, budget talks will accelerate in the coming weeks.
Republicans released a long set of priorities Friday afternoon, including providing the same $10,200 tax relief the Legislature provided to those who collected COVID-19-related unemployment — a benefit Congress provided in the December stimulus package — to all Mainers and increasing the homestead exemption. There were some surprises as well, including a municipal revenue sharing increase from 3.75 percent to 5 percent, an item that has not traditionally been a Republican budget priority.
A bill from Mills’ office to create a stimulus money fund for municipalities looks primed for passage while Republicans may push to replace bond proposals with federal money. Other priorities of the minority party, including a bill from House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, that aims to shield municipalities, schools and businesses from liability if a person gets coronavirus, as long as the institution is following state guidelines, will likely cause friction.
Unlike the last time we were talking budgets in Augusta, the minority party will likely have its traditional leverage this time around. Republicans were effectively boxed out in March after majority Democrats passed a two-year budget along party lines instead of with the typical two-thirds majorities. It allowed that budget to go into effect by July 1, but lawmakers will need to make deals before June 30 to incorporate these updates.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine Capitol Police chief retires after uproar over social media posts,” Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: [Chief Russell] Gauvin’s posts on a personal Facebook account were made public after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and as states girded for protests on the day of Biden’s inauguration two weeks later. The chief had cast doubt on the validity of President Joe Biden’s election and questioned masks’ effectiveness in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Gauvin lamented “a new political landscape” and criticized the Mills administration for its handling of his situation. The outgoing chief released a statement through his attorney saying partisan politics are making things difficult for police and expanded on that in an interview to say the state bowed to political pressure from Democratic lawmakers when it put him on leave. Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said Gauvin’s review should have been swifter and that he should have been fired.
— “Maine makes quick shift to walk-in COVID-19 vaccine appointments,” Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper, BDN: “The shift suggests Maine is moving into a more relaxed phase of vaccinations as clinics see dwindling interest in rigid appointments. It may continue to shift more into smaller or clinical settings. [Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav] Shah recently called appointment-free clinics ‘a model that meets the needs of Maine people where they are.’”
Maine and its neighbors continue to lead the U.S. in vaccination rates. The five states with the highest rates of COVID-19 vaccine coverage are all in New England, according to Bloomberg News’ tracker, as demand seems to have slowed in some other parts of the country. So far, 62 percent of eligible Maine adults have received at least one vaccine dose, according to state data, compared with 56 percent of adults nationwide.
— “The return of small cruise ships won’t replace lost tourist dollars in Maine,” Troy R. Bennett, BDN: “State officials have given small, domestic cruise ships permission to return to Maine this summer. But huge, multi-thousand passenger vessels — and the megabucks they bring the state in tourist spending and docking fees — aren’t coming back anytime soon.”
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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