Good morning from Augusta. Happy June. The Legislature returns to the Maine State House tomorrow after more than a year away from it.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “A year ago, Sherman’s was fighting for survival,” Jeff Curtis, owner of Sherman’s bookstore in Bar Harbor, said amid a busy Memorial Day weekend. “This year, we are extremely optimistic that 2021 will be our busiest year ever.”
What we’re watching today
Maine’s senators seem optimistic about a bipartisan infrastructure deal as negotiations continue this week, but the timeline is short. The White House has indicated that Democrats may go at infrastructure alone if lawmakers cannot reach a bipartisan agreement by the time Congress returns from its Memorial Day break next Monday.
The two parties have remained far apart on topline numbers so far, with President Joe Biden proposing a $1.7 trillion plan funded by increasing the corporate tax rate. An initial Republican counteroffer proposed $928 billion in spending, largely funded by reallocating existing funds. Both proposals include funding for roads and bridges, broadband and airports, among other initiatives, but the Republican plan excludes Biden’s proposed funding for home care, public transit and energy efficiency upgrades for schools and hospitals.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, told CNBC this morning that he thought Biden was “ready” for compromise, but suggested that finding a way to pay for the plan that both parties would agree on would be the most difficult aspect.
There may be another path in the works as well. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told Maine Public that she was working with a bipartisan group of eight senators “behind the scenes” on an alternative proposal if current talks between Biden and Republican lawmakers break down.
The tight timeline for infrastructure comes on the heels of the Senate’s failure to reach an agreement on a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A bill drafted on a bipartisan basis in the House failed to find the 10 Republican votes necessary to circumvent the filibuster on Friday, even after Democratic leaders agreed to bring up several changes proposed by Collins, one of only six Republicans who voted to advance the bill.
With infrastructure, Democrats could opt to pass a bill through the budget reconciliation process if bipartisan talks break down again. Such a move would engender backlash from Republicans once again, as it did when Democrats used it to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine lawmakers reluctant to share vaccine status with mask standoff looming,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “In a national survey conducted by the Republican-affiliated polling firm Echelon Insights in mid-May, 27 percent of people who were not vaccinated and had no plans to get the vaccine said they rarely or never wore face coverings in indoor public spaces. By contrast, only 6 percent of fully vaccinated individuals did not use masks. Both vaccination status and mask-wearing habits were both strongly correlated with partisan identity, the survey found, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to get shots and wear masks.”
Legislative committees have mostly wrapped business ahead of a marathon of session days starting tomorrow. There are two major policy decisions being debated today to watch. One will be whether to recommend Superior Court Justice Valerie Stanfill of Wayne for chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which the Judiciary Committee will weigh at 10 a.m. today.
The other will take place in the Legislature’s energy committee, which will have to decide on a proposal to create a consumer-owned electric utility. Approval of that bill would send the question to the voters this fall. Follow along with that conversation starting at 9 a.m. here.
— “Climate change threatens to displace Bangor residents who rely on affordable housing,” Bill Trotter, BDN: “Rising sea levels caused by overall warming temperatures and stronger and wetter storms are making coastal areas around the world more vulnerable to floods. Affordable housing sites that are projected to become more prone to such flooding can be found in six counties in Maine — Cumberland, Knox, Penobscot, Sagadahoc, Washington and York, according to an analysis by Climate Central, a not-for-profit science and journalism organization. Nearly 50 affordable housing units in those counties are projected to be vulnerable to annual coastal flooding by the end of this decade, with that number quadrupling by the end of the century.”
— “High fees could hurt public access as Maine court records go digital,” Megan Gray, Portland Press Herald: “Maine’s contract with the company that is modernizing its court records – a project intended to improve access to public information – comes with such exorbitant fees that few people may actually use it. The agreement with Tyler Technologies sets fees for downloading documents that are among the highest in the country, and it gives the company a cut of every fee paid.”
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.
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