Good morning from Augusta. We’re expecting the Legislature to work a long day on Wednesday and then adjourn for at least a couple of weeks.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I ‘taught’ Gordon Ramsay how to make butter,” said Lauren Pignatello, who runs a Coopers Mills creamery and appeared recently on the celebrity chef’s National Geographic travel show, using air quotes. “He was lovely and wonderful and really funny.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Proponents of a consumer-owned utility scored a major victory late Tuesday, but the governor fleshed out her opposition to it this morning. After more than an hour and a half of evening floor debate, the House of Representatives passed the landmark measure from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, to buy out Central Maine Power and Versant Power and turn the electric grid over to an elected board.
The 76-64 vote showed just how much progress Berry and others working on the issue have made in approximately three years. This iteration of the Legislature always figured to be more anti-CMP than the last one, but Tuesday’s vote was in question right up until the final bell and the phalanx of top lobbyists hired by the utility have rarely lost big fights before.
Keep in mind that they have not lost this one yet, however. While Berry’s measure looks like a better bet to pass the Senate, the margin in the House was still relatively close. That means supporters are virtually assured to fall short of the two-thirds majorities needed to override an expected veto from Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat who has criticized the measure already.
Mills, a proponent of CMP’s $1 billion corridor, has not said explicitly that she will veto it, but lobbyists were working the bill on Tuesday by telling lawmakers that she needed their help to defeat it. On Wednesday, the governor was before a Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast expounding on the reasons why she is skeptical of it.
She questioned whether payments in lieu of taxes provided in the bill would offset the $90 million in property taxes currently paid by the major utilities, although the bill specifically provides for payments that would equal current taxes. The governor also criticized the makeup of the elected board and said the language of the ballot question reads like a campaign slogan.
“So I think that this idea requires a lot more research, a lot more thought,” Mills said.
On Wednesday, the Senate is expected to take up the consumer-owned utility and the House will decide on another bill to rein in referendum spending by companies owned by foreign governments that was motivated by Hydro-Quebec’s advocacy in the corridor fight. Mills would probably prefer not having these bills reach her desk, but they look to be coming her way.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Bangor lawmaker’s push to popularly elect top Maine officials stalls in House,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “[Sen. Joe] Baldacci’s push came after Democrats elected former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to the state auditor role, a position he was not yet qualified for but is allowed to learn on the job. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, was criticized by Republicans for taking the job after winning her former Maine Senate seat behind a publicly funded campaign in 2020.”
The Legislature still has reams of paper to work through before they adjourn today. The budget may be a few weeks away, but there are plenty of issues we can expect to see fireworks on that have yet to be introduced. In the House, a proposal to put the cost of recycling packaging onto producers is expected to come off the table. A bill to end the sale of flavored tobacco products — something incorporated into Mills’ two-year budget — is still on the docket, as is a proposal to end nondisclosure agreements and impose a 3 percent tax on income over $200,000. We still have not seen a vote on a bill that would allow the tribes in Maine to operate gambling businesses. That could come up as well.
— “After historic highs, lumber prices are finally beginning to drop,” Emily Burnham, BDN: “[David Flanagan, president of Viking Lumber], said that the lumber market is starting to crack, however, and while inflated prices will likely stick around for the summer, they won’t be quite as high as they were in the spring — his company has already slightly lowered prices on some lumber. By the end of the year, he said, prices should start to get closer to normal.”
— “Man shot by police 7 years ago in Ellsworth standoff will get $10,000,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “Jeffrey Paul Barnard, 57, was shot in the face by Maine State Police Trooper Scott Duff following a nearly 20-hour standoff in Ellsworth on June 1, 2014, that began with a dispute over Barnard allegedly allowing friends to use a tractor that didn’t belong to him.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Lori Valigra 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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