Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature’s budget committee will be discussing Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to use the latest round of COVID-19 stimulus funds at 1:30 p.m. Follow here.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’ve already acted,” said Thomas Klak, professor of environmental studies at the University of New England who received a permit to plant hundreds of transgenic chestnut seedlings in an experimental orchard in Cape Elizabeth. “We acted by killing 4 billion chestnut trees and totally disrupting the eastern ecosystem. It’s not a matter of waiting to see if we can do something — we’ve already done something very terrible. So what are we going to do about it?” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
With the final piece of Mills’ three-pronged financial package in hand, Maine lawmakers are in a crunch to get their work done. The Democratic governor has already given a high-level view of her plan to use $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds, but the delivery of the bill to the budget committee, which will be briefed on the proposal today, will likely reinvigorate the philosophical differences between the two parties.
Democrats will not necessarily need to bring Republicans along to pass the plan since federal aid is only subject to a majority vote in the Legislature, but Mills has submitted the bill as an emergency measure. If that tag remains, the plan will need two-thirds votes in both chambers to pass immediately and Republicans are likely to question the plan as debates around how one-time spending is used continue.
On the state budget side, Republicans argued yesterday that more of the $940 million in additional revenue projected over the next two years could be put toward higher Medicaid reimbursement rates, long seen as a way to fix the industry’s workforce challenges. Measures to do so have received support in the Legislature’s health and human services committee, but it remains to be seen if the governor and the budget committee have the appetite to do so among other provider rate increases.
Members of the budget committee have so far encountered relatively little friction on Mills’ updated $8.8 billion state budget, but that is going to become harder next week as they work to finalize a product before June 16, the date lawmakers are still hoping to hit for adjournment.
Democrats and Republicans still remain apart on the overall size of the package, notably the new 200 or so positions — most of which would be permanent — and a proposal to backfill revenue lost from the sale of flavored tobacco products if they are banned in the state. The parties are expected to caucus throughout the weekend to work through more details.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine Senate backs creating new child welfare department over Janet Mills’ opposition,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The bill from Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, would transfer positions and dedicate another $1.7 million for 11 new employees in a Department of Child and Family Services next year. The longtime lawmaker and former secretary of state has been working on such a concept since 2001, when 5-year-old Logan Marr was killed by her foster mother in a highly publicized case.
A southern Maine lawmaker has launched the first legal challenge in the new referendum fight over Central Maine Power’s powerline project. Rep. Chris Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, said in a Cumberland County Superior Court filing that the question looking to block the project should be broken into three separate questions under state law. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said she believes she followed the law when crafting the question.
— “Jared Golden wants the feds to drop ‘unnecessary’ mask mandate for fishermen,” Christopher Burns, BDN: “While mask wearing has been relaxed under most circumstances, an executive order from Democratic President Joe Biden still requires masks at transportation hubs and aboard most forms of public transportation, including “maritime vessels,” such as ferries. That has been interpreted to include commercial fishing boats.”
Maine’s U.S. representatives spoke against proposed cuts to Navy shipbuilding after a visit to Bath Iron Works Thursday. Golden and Rep. Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, visited the facility with Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, and called for more funding for the shipbuilding budget after Biden’s initial budget request last month asked for only one new DDG-51 Flight III Destroyer rather than two.
— “Maine will shut down its mobile COVID-19 vaccine unit in 2 weeks,” The Associated Press: “Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said the mobile unit will then come to Portland and Old Orchard Beach. Its final day in service will be in Old Orchard Beach on June 18.”
Nearly three-quarters of Maine adults have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to new federal data. With Maine now at 74 percent, only Vermont has vaccinated a greater share of its adult population. More than 844,000 Mainers have received at least one dose, according to the latest update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal data shows more people vaccinated than Maine’s state-level data because it includes people who got vaccines through the VA or tribal programs as well as Mainers vaccinated in other states.
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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