Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature is in session with Senate votes expected Thursday on measures that would expand a property tax relief program for veterans and use federal relief money to give grants to tourism businesses and performing arts venues.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If that sign goes up there that weekend then the show is off. We’re canceling everything. I don’t want to be insulted. I don’t want to be babied,” said Kirk Minihane, a Barstool Sports podcast host, blasting an offer to name a road after him temporarily during a planned visit to Madawaska. The host wants any change to be permanent or that one not happen at all. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
The governor expressed deep skepticism about an effort to create a consumer-owned utility. Gov. Janet Mills had been relatively quiet on a bill to send a question to voters on whether to create the Pine Tree Power Co., which would create a nonprofit and buy out the state’s big electrical utilities. But it was still unsurprising that she criticized the measure Wednesday on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” and said lawmakers need to study it before they pass it to voters “sight unseen, basically.”
The Mills administration voiced concerns about the bill earlier in the year, but the governor’s outright wariness could prove to be supporters’ biggest hurdle yet. If Mills vetoes the bill, supporters will need a two-thirds vote to override her. They are already up against Central Maine Power and its army of lobbyists, plus Versant Power and Maine’s business lobby, all of which have long been advocating against the measure and concept.
It will test how far CMP critics in the Legislature want to go. Legislative efforts to stymie the utility’s controversial $1 billion hydropower corridor — which Mills also supports — are largely on hold this session as an anti-corridor referendum is set for November barring the same type of court challenge that struck an earlier question from the 2020 ballot.
Supporters hope the proposal will get a vote soon as the Legislature enters the home stretch and that the Democratic governor will not stand in the way of sending a question to the voters. If she does and the proposal cannot win the supermajorities in both chambers needed to override a veto, proponents have already said they will pursue signatures to get it on the ballot.
The political onus will then shift back to Mills approaching her own election next year. While former Gov. Paul LePage, her likely Republican opponent, is perhaps a more staunch corridor supporter than her, any action to derail a referendum risks Mills’ relations with the bipartisan coalition of CMP opponents who look to have deep grassroots support.
“Particularly, if it lands on her desk with a good, bipartisan majority … I think the question is: Why not let the voters decide and have a full public debate on this?” Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, a key utility critic, said Tuesday.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine lawmaker will sit out House work after disobeying mask mandate,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The episode delayed House proceedings as [Maine House Speaker Ryan] Fecteau convened the ethics panel. [Rep. John] Andrews’ decision effectively bars him from being able to vote this week, although the committee agreed he would be allowed to return to work if he wore a mask. The eight-member House ethics panel recessed while staff drafted a reprimand of Andrews.”
— “Maine Senate divided on bill requiring more transparency for contracts entered during emergencies,” Steve Mistler, Maine Public: “The proposal, sponsored by Republican Sens. Lisa Keim and Bennett, was prompted after the state labor department paid global consulting giant McKinsey and Company more than $6 million to help fix its unemployment claims system during the pandemic.”
— “Maine wants unvaccinated hospitality workers to get tested twice weekly for COVID-19,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The program is largely aimed at people who are not fully vaccinated and work in health care, hospitality or other public-facing jobs, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said Wednesday. She said people were encouraged to get tested as often as twice per week, even if they have no symptoms.”
Relatively few people took advantage of the state’s vaccine incentive program, which wrapped up at the end of May. More than 5,300 people claimed rewards through the “Your Shot to Get Outdoors” program, but they accounted for just a fraction of the more than 40,000 Maine adults who got their first vaccine dose after Mills announced the program in early May.
Maine Dems name new executive director
The state party will have new leadership heading into next year’s midterms and gubernatorial race. Incoming Executive Director Gaetan Davis most recently worked on former House Speaker Sara Gideon’s U.S. Senate campaign and in U.S. Rep. Jared Golden’s congressional office. She replaces Lisa Roberts, who had announced in April that she would be stepping down from the post after three years with the party.
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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