Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Janet Mills’ State of the Budget address is tonight at 7 p.m. You can hear the pre-recorded speech on Maine Public’s TV and radio platforms and the Bangor Daily News will stream it.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s very hard to run a small hospital. There are no economies of scale,” John Morrow, managing director of Franklin Trust Ratings, said of the challenges of keeping a small, critical hospital like the beleaguered Calais Regional Hospital afloat, which may be acquired out of bankruptcy by its Machias counterpart. “It’s like trying to run a library or a church in a town. You basically have to get the town to underwrite it or support it.”
What we’re watching today:
Mills’ third speech to lawmakers tonight will likely focus on the budget’s limits, which there is stark disagreement over. The speech taped last night in the Cabinet Room will likely focus on how constrained the $8.4 billion document is, with little room for additional programs and spending. Mills, coming off a dust-up with business interests and Republicans over an original plan to tax certain proceeds of federal loans, will likely emphasize her proposed solution to that, which comes partially at the expense of putting money in reserve.
The Democratic governor has dubbed her proposal a “no-drama” document that preserves state jobs and services while increasing education funding. But advocates across the political spectrum say they will be watching how Mills presents certain initiatives to get a sense of how she is planning to help people struggling during the coronavirus pandemic right now and how she is viewing the future amid an uncertain economic recovery.
Julie Rabinowitz, the executive director of Maine People Before Politics, an advocacy group associated with former Gov. Paul LePage, who may run against Mills in 2022, said one area she will be watching is how Mills communicates about state jobs. Her budget includes not refilling positions, but it also includes savings from a projected jump in employee attrition rate from 1.6 percent to 5 percent. It also includes a voluntary employee incentive program that would allow employees to take time off without pay or have reduced workweeks.
Those items raise questions about maintaining services and whether Mills will have to request more money if the attrition rate does not meet expectations, Rabinowitz said. She will also be watching for language around climate change initiatives, which would likely require bonds.
“She’s got several plans, and all of them cost money,” Rabinowitz said. “And we don’t have any money.”
But Sarah Austin, a budget analyst for the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy and a member of the state’s economic forecasting commission, argues the opposite is true. Her group has criticized Mills’ new conformity plan. The state’s revenues are up, and the promise of more federal aid means the state should “respond to the moment” and help those who are struggling in the pandemic, not “stick to the letter” of what she has already proposed, Austin said.
She eyed more housing and transportation support as well as efforts to address hunger in the state. Those efforts might cost money, but “they are important to the economic stability of the state,” Austin said.
“They make sure everyone is able to participate,” she said.
The Maine politics top 3:
— “New anti-CMP corridor referendum makes Maine’s November ballot,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “A first referendum effort from corridor opponents attempted to rescind a permit issued by the state’s utility regulator. It was deemed unconstitutional by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in August after a series of court battles and costly advertising, which has not stopped. This effort differs by trying to retroactively change state law by requiring lawmakers to approve any transmission project on public land with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.”
— “Lawyers who were ineligible to handle serious criminal charges were given thousands of these cases anyway,” Samantha Hogan of The Maine Monitor and Agnel Philip of ProPublica: “In some cases, the attorney lacked experience and could not have qualified to represent clients under state rules. In other cases, they had the necessary expertise, but they failed to apply to [the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services] to represent defendants facing serious charges. Maine’s top judges and court clerks claim they were unaware of the problem until contacted by the news organizations.”
— “A program to keep people out of jail is still rarely used in Maine,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “If defendants meet those conditions, their cases are either dismissed or the defendants are found guilty of lesser crimes than the ones with which they were originally charged. If defendants don’t meet the terms, they are convicted of the charges to which they pleaded guilty, saving the court system the time and expense of a trial.”
Maine’s court system will make civil complaints immediately available through its electric filing system after a lawsuit from the Bangor Daily News and other media organizations. After a rule change when Maine switched to the e-filing system last year, it could take up to three months for civil complaints to be made public. Paper complaints were previously available almost immediately after they were filed. A court spokesperson declined to say whether the reversal was related to the lawsuit.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews. 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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