Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “All of this is going to be based on data,” said Dorothy Shephard, the health minister for New Brunswick, on when the U.S.-Canada border might reopen. “The amount of vaccines out there, [the United States’] and ours, the amount of variants that might be in our midst. That’s when we’ll make decisions.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
The Legislature ended business with some consensus on Tuesday, but there are more difficult conversations ahead. As expected, Democrats were able to push their $8.3 billion two-year budget rather quickly through the Legislature on Tuesday over Republican objections. There was little drama surrounding the votes aside from two Democratic defections on the final vote from Sens. Bill Diamond of Windham and Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro.
The majority party argued that it was essential to pass a budget by April 1 to take the possibility of a state government shutdown off the table. Republicans said they did not want to shut the government down and implored Democrats to stick to the typical consensus process of passing a consensus budget, saying it could permanently damage relations in Augusta.
But as lawmakers continued work late into the evening to formally wind down the 2021 session so the budget could go into effect by a July 1 deadline, the parties agreed to call themselves back to the Augusta Civic Center on April 28 as Gov. Janet Mills prepares yet another budget document to allocate hundreds of millions in incoming federal stimulus funding.
Mills said in a statement she hoped that work will be done in a bipartisan manner. With $1 billion coming in direct state aid on top of more money that Maine will have power over, some of the money is expected to replace state budget funding and some is likely to go to new programs. Democrats’ Tuesday move showed they could flex their majorities to do it, but they are first allowing the possibility of bringing Republicans along.
Members of both parties seemed hopeful the rancor would fade as the session continues. House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, said there was “so much important work to be done” and hoped passing a budget with relatively little additions would soften the blow over time. He said two-thirds votes may not be a thing of the past, noting other emergency bills received the necessary support to take effect after the budget vote.
Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, who sits on the Legislature’s budget committee, was cautiously optimistic both parties could continue to work together, saying he believed he would be able to look past the frustration he felt about the vote “in a few days.”
“I’m optimistic that people will have cooler heads, things will calm down, and we will be able to move on and do the work of the people that so desperately needs to be done,” he said.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Power giant sues Maine over plan that could force removal of 4 Kennebec dams,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The rulemaking process comes as one of the dams — the Shawmut Dam in Fairfield — is up for a license renewal with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The state has billed its proposed change as “nothing more than a guidance document,” but the federal agency has said it must weigh state plans when considering whether to renew dam licenses. Licenses of the other dams could be at issue this way as they come up for reconsideration.”
Lawyers for environmental groups and Central Maine Power clashed in court yesterday as a judge will decide whether the western Maine corridor’s environmental review was sufficient. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Appalachian Mountain Club are seeking to halt construction on the project pending a more thorough review from the Army Corps of Engineers. CMP contends the review was adequate and found the corridor will not have a large environmental impact. The utility suffered a loss in court earlier this month when a judge ordered the state to determine whether the project will substantially alter the leased land it crosses, which would require the Legislature to approve the leases with a two-thirds vote. That would be a tough sell.
— “Maine urging people in 50s to get vaccinated as more doses lead to unfilled appointments,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The number of unfilled appointments comes as somewhat of a surprise after Maine’s early vaccine rollout was characterized by high demand, with seniors battling to get through clogged phone lines or overwhelmed websites to compete for scarce slots. Maine expanded vaccine eligibility to people in their 50s last week, but less than one-third of people in that age group have been vaccinated so far, according to state data.”
— “Fraudulent mass texts in Piscataquis County show how disinformation has infiltrated local politics,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “The messages injected national cultural issues into an unrelated debate before the Piscataquis County commissioners over providing a letter of support to the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft as it applies for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to pay for structural repairs. Commissioners voted 2-1 against providing the letter of support after accusing theater leaders of politicizing the institution. They also voted to ask the Maine attorney general’s office or the district attorney to investigate the theater’s past use of grants.”
Let the 2022 campaign begin
The Maine Republican Party hit the governor for her recent fundraising kickoff during the coronavirus pandemic. Mills had been avoiding raising money for her likely reelection campaign in 2022 until Saturday, when she sent her first fundraising emailsince early 2019. Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, sniped back in a fundraising email of his own late Tuesday, saying “while our state is in economic shambles, Janet is focused on raising money from Democrats all over the country.”
The next shoe to drop is whether former Gov. Paul LePage will indeed run against Mills in 2022 after long saying he was “99.9 percent” likely to do it. He is assured the Republican nomination if he wants it, but a decision not to run would lead to an uncertain primary.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews 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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