Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, covers his heart while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative Democrats promised on Wednesday to bring members back for a special session “immediately” if Republicans do not support the proposal for a new two-year state budget that’s slated for a vote on Tuesday.

The Legislature would have to adjourn after a budget vote that passes by a majority for the gambit to work. A new budget needs to be in place by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. And if the budget passes by a majority, instead of with the support of two-thirds of lawmakers, it wouldn’t take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

Democrats announced a “Back to Basics” budget last week that they said was roughly in line with Gov. Janet Mills’ budget proposal from January. While they described it as a “flat” proposal, it’s about $400 million more than the two-year budget passed in 2019. A breakdown of the budget is currently not available on the state’s website.

Democratic leaders were hopeful on Wednesday that they would not need to adjourn and could get Republicans onboard, but the path involving a majority vote seemed increasingly likely. Republicans slammed the proposal during a Wednesday morning press conference, characterizing the budget process as “incomplete” and that they would not support it.

“The message that is being sent by the legislative Democrats is that there is no hope for us to negotiate in good faith,” said Maine House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford.

The situation speaks to the lack of trust among both parties. Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, who co-chairs the Legislature’s budget committee, referenced the late-night votes needed to pass a supplemental budget two weeks ago after Republicans in the Maine House torpedoed an amended proposal that had passed the Senate with just enough Republican support.

“It was a cliffhanger, and we don’t need another cliffhanger in June,” Breen said.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said his party has not yet developed a set of priorities it would like to see in the budget, noting the state’s budget committee has barely begun its process of sorting through budget recommendations from the Legislature’s other policy committees.

It is not unprecedented for spending bills to pass with simple majority votes. According to the Maine Law and Legislative Reference Library, 20 such bills have passed since the 1950s, with most of those supplemental spending packages.

Democrats would have a narrow margin to pull it off. They can only afford to lose four members in the House, where they hold 80 of the 151 seats, if all Republicans and the five independents voted against it. At least one independent, Rep. Jeff Evangelos of Friendship said he was “disgusted” by the impending vote and would not support it.

“Democrats should think long and hard about the consequences of this abuse of power,” he said.

Returning for a special session after the budget vote could be tricky.

Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said Wednesday that the scope of the special session would include all drafted and undrafted bills that lawmakers have proposed this year.

The Legislature can adjourn with a simple majority vote, but reconvening for a special session requires support from a majority of all the caucuses, so a majority of Republicans would need to be on board. The governor can also call the Legislature back for a special session on her own.

Last year, Republicans twice refused to return to Augusta over disagreements about the scope of a special session. Mills never called them back.

Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, said he was confident Mills would bring lawmakers back if necessary, pointing to a letter she sent to legislative leaders on Monday. That letter, he said, made it clear “there’s work to be done beyond the budget.”

The letter references future predictions from the state’s economic forecasting groups and the portion of money that will be coming to Maine from the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Congress recently passed — money the Legislature will have control over through a simple majority vote.

Mills cited those two factors as the reason why she wanted to see a baseline budget passed. Her office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.