Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It made me realize there are some things you have to cope with, and this is one of them,” Steven Whitney, 73, of Little Deer Isle said of the coronavirus pandemic. Whitney became one of the first older Mainers to receive a vaccine dose last week.
What we’re watching today
Maine’s two senators signaled Washington might agree on money for vaccinations after a call with White House advisers but a broader relief bill could be a stretch. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were among the bipartisan group of senators on a Sunday call with President Joe Biden’s economic advisers to discuss the Democratic president’s $1.9 trillion plan.
Biden’s proposal includes money for vaccinations as well as another round of stimulus checks, extended federal unemployment benefits, aid for state and local governments, a $15 hourly minimum wage and an expanded child tax credit, among other provisions. But lawmakers balked at the price tag this weekend, suggesting that major changes could be needed for the bill to pass the Senate, where it would need 60 votes.
Collins called the full package “premature,” saying she thought lawmakers should work on a more targeted plan. There could be quicker consensus around issues such as money for vaccinations, while stimulus checks seemed to be a sticking point, with lawmakers arguing the $1,400 payments should be more targeted based on need. King, who has backed much of the package, also questioned the cost, saying it isn’t “Monopoly money.”
Lawmakers generally agreed a bill should come sooner rather than later, King told Axios. One deadline could be Feb. 8, when the Senate is set to begin former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, putting other business on hold. If Congress fails to reach an agreement before then, expect lawmakers to scramble again before March 14, when federal pandemic unemployment benefits expire again.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine passed a law to prevent mass shootings. Police have used it 13 times,” Judy Harrison, Bangor Daily News: “Maine’s law has the potential to save lives, according to authorities. But using it is time-consuming and resource-intensive, as it involves police, district attorneys, defense attorneys, judges and medical professionals. It comes with no additional funding attached that would make it truly effective, they said. Plus, it hasn’t always succeeded in ensuring that people who need mental health treatment actually follow through with it, said a lawyer involved in a number of yellow flag cases.”
The Bangor Daily News is now allowing people to request removal of old crime stories on Google. Similar to other “right to be forgotten” initiatives, people involved in misdemeanor crime stories five or more years ago and felonies 10 or more years ago, which aligns with the Maine court system’s standard for the destruction of old documents, can ask that story be removed from search engine indexing. They can also ask the newspaper to remove old social media posts where they were mentioned. Learn more about it here.
— “What Joe Biden’s inauguration was like for 2 Maine Guard troops who protected it,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Both are veterans of the Maine Army National Guard, but neither had experienced a mission like this one as two of more than 25,000 guardspeople, including up to 200 from Maine, were tasked with protecting President Joe Biden’s swearing-in after the deadly Jan. 6 riots, when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.”
— “Federal government threatens to pull Houlton airport funding over unauthorized lease,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “At risk is potentially millions of dollars in federal funding for the small airport, located on more than 1,000 acres of land that the federal government deeded to the town in 1947. The airport relies on federal money for maintenance and improvements. It received $14.7 million in federal funding from 1983 to 2020, including $4.4 million last September to reconfigure a taxiway, said Gail Latrell, the FAA’s regional director.”
Legislature begins budget work with tax discussion
Lawmakers will begin hearings on the supplemental budget on Monday with testimony focused on federal tax conformity. The four days of testimony on the supplemental budget will be the first major instance where the public can weigh in and will give us a preview of how the rest of the session may work.
Today’s hearing will tackle tax issues, including the degree to which Maine should alter its tax laws to align with provisions in the CARES Act passed by Congress last March. The state is one of several that does not automatically conform to federal tax changes and Gov. Janet Mills issued a proposal last year that would adopt some now, some later and some not at all.
The state pegged the conformity package presented to the Legislature in July at a cost of $10 million, but Republicans wanted to see more cuts passed through to Mainers. For example, Maine would mirror one federal business interest deduction starting in 2023, while businesses could claim that deduction on their federal taxes immediately.
Today’s meeting starts at 10 a.m. You have until 9:30 a.m. to sign up with the budget committee clerk if you want to testify. Here’s your soundtrack.
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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