Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature’s budget panel is expected to advance a version of Gov. Janet Mills’ $1.1 billion plan for federal COVID-19 aid at a meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday. Listen here.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Browntail moth eggs may be removed with gloved hands, by clipping affected leaves and soaking the eggs in soapy water for two days. Then throw them away,” said Jim Britt, spokesperson with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, on how to ensure the toxic insects come back in smaller numbers next year. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
Supporters of a consumer-owned utility are expected to mount a referendum bid if — or perhaps when — the governor vetoes their bill on Tuesday. It is the last day for Mills to sign or veto a proposal that would ask voters to buy out the infrastructure of Maine’s two dominant utilities and institute a consumer-owned utility run by an elected board. A veto is likely, since the Democratic governor has spoken out and whipped lawmakers against it.
The bill, led by leading Central Maine Power Co. critic Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, had a hard fight in the Legislature. It is a major shift that will require billions in borrowing against future revenues and risks protracted legal fights. After clearing initial hurdles, the bill looked to be in danger when two key senators flipped as opponents leaned into concerns about how the utility would affect property taxes. An amendment aiming to protect local revenue got the bill through the Senate, but only narrowly with little hope for supporters to override a veto.
Berry and other supporters are already shifting their attention to the ballot box as they plan to pursue a traditional referendum by collecting signatures to get the utility change on the 2022 ballot if a veto is successful. It would tack on at least another year of political strife for CMP with a question challenging its $1 billion hydropower corridor project set for the November ballot.
A report comes at a crucial time for supporters of a consumer-owned utility. The state’s utility regulator commissioned an audit of CMP after ordering the company to compensate customers for billing errors last winter and controversy over metering and rate issues. Liberty Consulting Group found some of the company’s issues stemmed from the 2015 merger of subsidiaries to create Avangrid, CMP’s parent company under Spain-based Iberdrola.
The parent company has had an “overemphasis on closing earning gaps,” since then, the report noted, limiting resources to meet shareholder expectations that may have led to poor service. The report was not all bad — the report found complaints have decreased — but it provides more fodder for CMP opponents once they begin gathering signatures to bring the question to voters.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Exodus of lawyers for low-income Mainers prompts worry that cases won’t be covered,” Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “Maine is the only state without a public defender system. Instead the state contracts with private lawyers to provide legal representation for people who cannot afford it. The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services has been under heavy scrutiny since 2019, when a state report that highlighted a lack of financial oversight was followed by more critical reporting on the system led by the Maine Monitor, a nonprofit news outlet.”
— “Maine tribes protest continued presence of Columbus ship replica in Bucksport,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “Dawn Neptune Adams said Monday that members of the Penobscot Tribe discovered the Nao Santa Maria replica was part of the state’s bicentennial celebration the same day members learned that the federal appellate court in Boston had rejected its appeal over whether its boundaries extended to the waters of the Penobscot River near its reservation lands.”
— “New funds from state budget will reduce the tax burden on Bangor homeowners,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “Maine’s newly passed state budget will provide the city of Bangor an additional $1.2 million in revenue sharing in the fiscal year, allowing it to lower the city’s mill rate, City Manager Cathy Conlow said Monday. More money will be sent by the state to Bangor schools and further decrease homeowners’ tax burden, though that amount has not been decided.”
Mills signs 40 bills, vetoes one more
The governor signed bills Monday to expand access to child care, boost electric vehicle charging stations and send a transportation bond to voters, among others. She vetoed a bill sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would have allowed workers who accused their employer of wrongdoing to hire a private lawyer to investigate on the state’s behalf.
The veto did not come as a surprise as both the Maine Department of Labor and Attorney General Aaron Frey’s office testified against the bill earlier this year, but it is another example of Mills reining in a more progressive Legislature. It is the 27th veto during a tenure marked by full Democratic control of Augusta and Mills’ 17th of 2021 with more likely to come.
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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