Good morning from Augusta. Are you a postal worker or Mainer affected by mail delays? We’d love to hear from you.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Did they have to have their wedding?” said Jen Tower, about the outbreak of at least 28 people in Millinocket that stemmed from an Aug. 7 wedding. “We’re a small community of a lot of older people. I just don’t get why they did it.”
What we’re watching today
Spending cut proposals are due to the governor’s budget office on Wednesday and the job is difficult. Early this month, Gov. Janet Mills asked most state agencies to identify 10 percent cost reductions over the budget year ending in mid-2021 in light of the coronavirus pandemic expected to lead to a $1.4 billion shortfall over three years. They are due back to the budget office at noon today. Recommendations are expected to be finalized by Friday.
The Mills administration is saying that money will be held in reserve in case no more aid from Congress comes. At the same time, the Democratic governor has signaled what she does not want to cut. She has set a goal of having the “least impact on state employees and on vital programs and services” while touting increases in health spending that she says are important.
This is a bit of a contortion. Aid to local schools is $1.1 billion of Maine’s $4 billion annual budget. State budget spending in the Department of Health and Human Services is $1.3 billion. Not touching that means deeper cuts in other areas if these come to pass. Of course, cuts could have major downstream effects. Advocates are looking to shield Medicaid during a pandemic.
Budget politics are afoot again as Mills resists raising taxes. After Mills took over in 2019, conservatives hit her for initially proposing an $8 billion budget that was 11 percent over the baseline — a similar amount to what Mills wants to cut now. But they were only able to use their leverage to nudge it slightly under the $8 billion mark as Mills funded programs that predecessor Paul LePage did not, including court-mandated Medicaid expansion.
Some progressives were frustrated then by Mills’ campaign pledge to not raise taxes and there is chatter about that idea again. Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, the co-chair of the tax committee, wants to create a new, higher income tax bracket for people making more than $200,000 or $250,000, according to the news arm of the progressive Maine People’s Alliance.
This seems unlikely to happen. It will be resisted by Republicans as the economy sputters and Mills has already thwarted this wing of her party on the issue in the past. But the idea could gain more traction if the proposed budget cuts look particularly bloody and drive years of conversation about spending in Maine.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine receives 20,000 online absentee ballot requests in 24 hours amid mail concerns,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The total is a massive sum, but only represents a small share of Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s projection that 60 percent of Maine voters may vote absentee for the general election. A record 185,000 voters returned absentee ballots for the July 14 primary following urging by state and local officials to vote absentee in order to reduce crowding at the polls.”
Maine is also joining other states in a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service over ongoing delays. Attorney General Aaron Frey said Tuesday the state will sign onto a Pennsylvania-led lawsuit along with a handful of other states with Democratic attorneys general. Frey said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s “sudden and unilateral” changes to the service deprived states of their right to weigh in.
Clarification: An earlier version of this item used too high of a turnout estimate for the 2020 election. Based on 2016 turnout, the secretary of state’s estimated share of absentee voters would equal roughly 463,000 early ballots.
— “Ad Watch: Sara Gideon cherry-picks Susan Collins’ record on prescription drug legislation,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “A Facebook ad from the campaign of House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, cherry-picks votes to create a misleading representation of Sen. Susan Collins’ record on prescription drug legislation.”
But Collins’ campaign is cherry-picking Gideon’s statements too. A Facebook ad from the Republican senator’s campaign claims Gideon would increase taxes on most Maine families, a calculation that only holds up if you exclude the Freeport Democrat’s suggested tax breaks. Gideon has said she opposes the 2017 Republican tax bill, which initially cut taxes for most Maine families, but she has cited tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations as reasons for her opposition and said she supports tax cuts for middle-class families.
— “BIW union tells strikers to stand down before contract vote,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “The leadership of Bath Iron Works’ largest union asked strikers to stop picketing and take down their signs as members prepare to vote on a new contract this weekend.”
Winthrop legislator charms at DNC
A Maine state representative presented the state’s delegates at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday. Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop,made a 30-second appearance from his farm, describing how he was living his “American dream” of having an organic farm on a lake, a farmstand and a bed-and-breakfast and praising Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Like Maggie Rogers’ appearance from the Scarborough coast the night before, Hickman’s appearance generated a lot of (correct) online takes about how idyllic Maine is in the summer. Here’s your soundtrack.
Maine Senate to reconvene next week … briefly
Don’t call it a comeback, but one legislative chamber will return to Augusta on Monday. The Senate will convene starting at 10 a.m. in the House chamber for a set of long-awaited confirmation votes, including three nominees to the hobbled Maine Ethics Commission. Members will be assigned seating six feet apart and equipped with hand sanitizer, and equipment like microphones and voting tablets will be sanitized, too. However, this is not the full return still subject to squabbling between Democrats and Republicans.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email email@example.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.