Good morning from Augusta. Bills that target a controversial public land lease tied to the Central Maine Power corridor will be worked on in the Legislature’s agriculture committee Tuesday morning. Follow along here.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Nothing has changed,” Aroostook Valley Country Club manager and golf pro Steve Leitch said about the club — whose clubhouse is in Fort Fairfield with the course mostly in New Brunswick — remaining closed to Americans. “It is up to the federal governments of Canada and the United States. It’s completely out of our hands.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Municipalities are being cautious about plans to spend millions of federal stimulus money without more clarity. More than $1.5 billion coming to state and local governments in Maine is likely to start being paid out this month after key rules were released by the U.S. Treasury on Monday. They were broad and unsurprising, leading to few roadblocks ahead for governments here. Still, it will likely take years to spend the game-changing and most places have taken a conservative view on the funds so far.
Portland, for example, is focusing on backfilling lost revenue, one of the main areas the federal funds can be used. Finance Manager Brendan O’Connell said the city is looking at using between $16 million and $18 million through fiscal year 2024 in four areas — waterfront and cruise ships, new nursing home residents, parking meter revenue and parks and recreation activities — that were slammed by the pandemic and risked cuts to city services. More expansive uses will be up to the City Council.
Counties are being even more cautious. Piscataquis County manager Michael Williams said the rural county has not suffered heavy losses during the pandemic, in part because real estate transfer taxes have soared. But with only $1.6 million expected in federal funds this year, he said the county is only thinking of using some of the money for a broadband study for now.
Next year’s county budget does not need to be decided until the fall, giving Williams and commissioners more time to decide how to use it. It’s an example of how many governments may be in no immediate rush to spend the money, although broadband, climate change mitigation and regional projects could be among the most noteworthy items to come of the aid.
Gov. Janet Mills has already laid out her plan to spend the $1.1 billion in direct state aid, focusing on infrastructure and business assistance. Major changes to Mills’ package are not expected and a spokesperson for the budget department said state officials are “encouraged thus far by what we have read” in the new guidelines.
Lawmakers are waiting to see if any unrestricted federal funds will come to the state that they will have control over. They will be able to change Mills’ proposal and lawmakers are already looking at ideas to do so. For example, a legislative panel will hear a bill on Tuesday that would require the Legislature to dedicate at least 10 percent of discretionary federal COVID-19 funds to help marginalized communities in the state. Follow along at 2 p.m.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine native arrested for entering Capitol illegally during Jan. 6 siege,” Judy Harrison, Bangor Daily News: “[Glen Mitchell] Simon initially admitted to being outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 but denied entering the building, according to the complaint. FBI agents identified him from surveillance video in the Rotunda and the Statuary Hall. Court documents in Georgia do not say when Simon moved from Maine to Georgia. He owns a tree removal service business in Gainesville.”
— “GOP lawmaker wants probe of Maine’s disclosure of mental health patients’ private info,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “A department review of the incident found that the documents went online due to ‘an electronic system error’ and that the state did not violate a federal law shielding patient information, according to a spokesperson. The state has taken the documents in question off the website and is contacting the roughly 20 people affected.”
A Fairfield legislator has lost her guest privileges at the State House after not following COVID-19 safety protocols. Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, R-Fairfield, tried to bring coronavirus conspiracist Naomi Wolf to Gov. Janet Mills’ office after she did not clear the visit with House Republican staffers first in late April. She was deprived of the ability to bring constituents into the State House — which has been largely closed to the public for over a year — as of last Friday after legislative leaders took a ballot vote.
— “Maine renters facing 2-month backlog in rental assistance requests,” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “Thousands of struggling Maine renters are seeing a two-month backlog for their rent relief applications, as understaffed local agencies struggle to keep pace with the volume of applications and a bulkier process that requires more documentation.”
The backlog comes as a federal eviction moratorium faces severe legal jeopardy. A federal judge ruled last week that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority by barring landlords from evicting people amid the public health emergency. The ruling was delayed while the Justice Department appeals, but it could spell trouble for renters across the U.S. behind on rent and yet to receive assistance.
Maine is allowing younger children to be vaccinated. Mills’ announcement came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided the Pfizer vaccine can be used on an emergency basis with children aged 12 to 15. Let us know your questions on vaccinating children here. Here’s your soundtrack.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper 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.
To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.