Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Having an event where you can even be yourself for a day is really important to a lot of people,” said Alphonse Williams, 18, of Brooks, who was among the attendees celebrating Pride in Bangor this weekend. “It’s kind of a life or death thing sometimes.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Sunday’s unanimous vote on the two-year budget from the Legislature’s appropriations committee came after major compromises. The $8.5 billion budget lawmakers will likely approve on Wednesday is slimmer than the proposal unveiled by Gov. Janet Mills nearly two months ago and includes some major policy changes. Among the more attention-grabbing items was the addition of a $300 payment for single earners up to $75,000 and joint filers of $150,000 as “hazard pay” for Mainers, a win for Republicans cut out of the last budget.
It is a far cry from the tax break on up to $10,200 of income Republicans wanted to extend to all workers at the start of negotiations. It is still a lot of money, costing an estimated $150 million for payments to 500,000 workers and requiring $500,000 to administer, but it is much less than the tax break to the tune of $300 million or more that Republicans were seeking.
That deal came with other various changes that are likely to make the package more palatable to Republicans, who have been skeptical about the budget’s size. A proposal to replace revenues lost from the ban of flavored tobacco sales was eliminated, as were other items like $18 million to renovate buildings at the Maine Maritime Academy. A notable addition includes raising reimbursements for direct care workers to 125 percent of the minimum wage and $20 million in relief to nursing homes struggling to recover from the pandemic.
The Democratic governor embraced the compromise in a Sunday night statement, saying it made “important, meaningful, and historic progress.” Mills has said she wants a two-thirds vote on the budget this week so money for schools and municipalities can get out as soon. That looks pretty likely now, but the budget committee still needs to wade into the governor’s $1.1 billion proposal to spend federal stimulus money. A decision on that may not come immediately as the Legislature will be knee-deep in vetoes and remaining bills this week.
The Maine politics top 3
— “After a series of deaths, scrutiny starts again for Maine’s child welfare system,” Lia Russell, Bangor Daily News: “The Maine Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday said it would bring in Casey Family Programs, a national organization focused on children’s safety and reducing the need for foster care, to investigate the deaths of four children under age 4 within the past month and develop policy recommendations. The state’s child welfare ombudsman, Christine Alberi, said her office planned to independently investigate three of those four deaths as part of its outside oversight of the child welfare system. Police investigations are happening as well.”
Police notified the state twice that a 3-year-old boy who was killed last week was potentially being neglected. The case of Maddox Williams, whom police say was killed by his mother, Jessica Trefethen, last week, is similar in some ways to the high-profile deaths that focused attention on the child welfare system in 2018. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services was notified by police at least twice of potential neglect while Maddox was living with his father, who was accused of committing crimes with the boy in tow. There were also multiple reports of abuse or neglect in the cases of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy, who were killed by caregivers in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
— “Tucker Carlson and grassroots take on Janet Mills and Paul LePage in corridor fight,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The divide among environmental groups about the project depends in part on differing ideas about what the energy from the corridor will displace. Opponents generally say the environmental costs are not worth the limited benefits of hydropower with better renewables on the way. But advocates argue there is a short-term need to offset fossil fuels and replace nuclear plants set to be decommissioned in the region.”
— “State employees’ union at odds with Janet Mills over pay with deadline looming,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The biggest divider is pay, an area that has been contentious since the state released a report showing Maine state employees get paid on average 15 percent less than New England and private sector counterparts. An expired contract could heighten tensions between Mills and the state employees, who have clashed over how Maine has handled its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, although both parties believe a deal can be reached before then.”
The union held a rally outside the State House on Sunday. “Gov. Mills says ‘thank you’ to the essential workers, but doesn’t think they are worth the investment,” Dean Staffieri, president of the Maine Service Employees Association, said at the event, according to the Kennebec Journal.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews 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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