Members of the Maine House take their oath of office at the Augusta Civic Center in this December 2020 file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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If you are ever having trouble sleeping, do yourself a favor and grab a book on parliamentary procedure and crack it open. There are very few things in this life that can induce unconsciousness quite as fast as discussions of the lawmaking process.

Which is, of course, by design, and something that makes politicians very happy.

You see, it is to every legislator’s benefit to make the actual method of decisionmaking as opaque as possible. The less you understand, to them, the better. Understanding breeds attention, and inspires questions. Attention and questions mean accountability.

I quite like accountability, so to fight against the impulse for you to pass out as you read about the legislative shenanigans occurring in Augusta right now, I am here to help. Let’s talk about what is happening, why it is happening, and why you should care.

To do that, we must first talk a little bit about the budget process, and how it works.

Maine has a fiscal year that begins on July 1, and runs until June 30 of the following year. When you hear somebody say “Fiscal Year 2021,” they are referring to the period beginning in July of 2020, and ending in June of 2021.

To fund the government, Maine’s Legislature passes a state budget every two years. In odd numbered years, the governor will propose a budget, and they will need to pass something before the end of June or the government will run out of money, which happened in 2017.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

In Maine, a bill becomes law exactly 90 days after the end of the legislative session in which it was passed.

So what happens if legislators don’t pass a budget and adjourn until the middle of June, for example? Does that mean that the government would be shut down until the middle of September?

Not if a two-thirds vote of the Legislature passes a bill as an “emergency law.” So-called emergency laws take effect on the date the governor signs them, unless a bill itself deems another effective date inside the text.

And so we arrive at the important point. If the Legislature passes a budget by the end of this month, they can do it with a simple majority. If they wait any longer, they’ll need two-thirds.

For a long time now, it has been customary for lawmakers to work on Maine’s budget over the course of months, and to seek bipartisan consensus with a two-thirds vote. The last time a two-year budget was passed earlier in the calendar with a simple majority was 16 years ago in 2005.

But that is exactly what the Democrats have decided to do this year, despite saying for months that a majority budget was unlikely, not necessary, and that they wanted to forge a compromise with Republicans.

And what are they planning to pass? A supposedly “back to basics” budget of $8.3 billion — virtually the same total as Janet Mills’ proposed $8.4 billion budget — scribbled on the back of a metaphorical napkin and rushed through the committee process and put in front of lawmakers with virtually no time to consider the contents, such as they are, within the document.

Why does this matter? Glad you asked.

This is a blatant, partisan move by legislative Democrats, meant, it seems, to increase their power and authority and completely shut out the Republican minorities in the House and Senate, who were completely blindsided by this move.

This will allow Democrats to pass a slapped-together budget exactly how they want it with only Democratic votes, and then set up a situation in the future where they can be called back into session by Gov. Mills and pass a supplemental budget that contains even more spending and higher taxes, without even having to pretend to even care about collaboration or compromise.

“This isn’t how legislation is supposed to be done,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake earlier this week. “This isn’t how even partisan legislation is supposed to be done.”

Quite right. And yet I can almost hear Democrats across the state smiling at this power move. After all, elections have consequences, right? The glee that I’m sure they’ll feel from getting what they want while telling their right-leaning legislative colleagues to go pound sand must be overwhelming.

But take heed, friends. Politics is cyclical, and by doing this all the Democrats have done is guarantee that Republicans will do the same back to them. When they do, I don’t want to hear a single one of you complain. After all, elections have consequences.

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...