Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is joined by other members of the "common sense coalition," from left, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, discuss the bipartisan immigration deal they reached during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature’s voting panel is set to hear a series of bills that would expand Mainers’ abilities to vote by absentee ballot or vote early. Hearings begin at 10 a.m.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We started with two to four couples. There are times when we see 30 to 40 eagles out there or around,” said Gwen Kinney, owner of Kinney Compost in Waldo County, which attracts dozens of the birds. “They know where we are, and they like the salmon. They spread it all over the place. Then the little birds come and pick it up.”

What we’re watching today

Maine’s two senators are doing much of the talking for their sides as infrastructure negotiations continue in Washington. A day after Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, urged Republicans to put their counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, criticized the president’s plan as too broad while teasing her party’s counteroffer.

The Republican proposal would have a price tag “substantially smaller” than Biden’s proposal and would be more focused on traditional infrastructure, Collins told Punchbowl News on Tuesday. That likely means leaving out core parts of Biden’s sprawling proposal — including raising wages for home care workers and subsidies for electric vehicles — and mostly limiting it to traditional transportation infrastructure and broadband.

King, in turn, indicated a significantly smaller offer might not go far with Democrats after he was among the bipartisan group of lawmakers who met with Biden to discuss infrastructure earlier this week. Biden told lawmakers he was open to compromise. But King warned that Republicans would have to come up with something “in the ballpark” with Biden’s plan in terms of the contents and funding mechanisms.

“If they come back with a lowball deal that really doesn’t meet the needs of the country right now, then it’s not going to go anywhere,” King said in a Tuesday interview with MSNBC.

How to pay for the plan could be a substantial part of negotiations — if Democrats and Republicans manage to agree on what belongs in the bill. Biden has proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent after Republicans lowered it from 35 percent as part of their 2017 tax bill. But Collins seemed to balk at that kind of increase Tuesday, saying she might support a “slight” increase but it wasn’t the time to “impose huge new taxes.”

King said he suggested strengthening the IRS to improve tax collections as a potential funding mechanism. The IRS commissioner told a Senate committee earlier this month that tax cheating was costing the country as much as $1 trillion each year.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Rural Maine vaccine clinics are closing as demand dies down,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “It marks a new phase in Maine’s vaccination effort. What was initially marked by relatively few doses and places to get them has now evolved into dozens of options, although people in some areas of the state still struggle to find doses close to them. The state is considering making vaccinations more flexible, including expanding on no-appointment options that are scant now.”

Maine’s governor is plotting a path to sending federal stimulus money to cities and towns. The Legislature’s budget committee on Wednesday will hold a work session on a measure from Gov. Janet Mills to establish the fund that would hold aid to cities and towns under the American Rescue Plan. Maine is expected to get $647 million in aid to municipalities and schools under the relief bill. The governor is set to submit a supplemental budget to spend more aid after a new revenue forecast is unveiled around month’s end.

— “High court sides with Old Town in tax dispute with former mill owner, saving city nearly $1M,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “Maine’s high court concluded that the city did not assess the mill in 2014 and 2015 for more than its ‘just value,’ and that Expera had failed to meet its burden of showing that the tax assessments were manifestly wrong.”

— “US extends Canada border closure to May 21,” Alexander MacDougall, Houlton Pioneer Times: “The move comes as Canada has had a surge of COVID-19 cases, particularly in the province of Ontario, which reported more than 4,000 new cases Monday. Canada’s vaccination rate has been slower than in the United States, with 24 percent of its population receiving just one dose of a vaccine, compared to more than 40 percent in the United States.”

Golden floats corporate PAC spending ban, won’t return AOC money

Maine’s 2nd District congressman proposed a ban on corporate PAC spending. A bill introduced by Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, would bar companies from operating political committees. Under current campaign finance law, corporations cannot make political contributions directly out of their company profits, but they can set up PACs, ask employees or shareholders to donate and then use that money to boost their preferred candidates. 

Golden’s bill, cosponsored by Rep. Josh Harder, D-California, would ban for-profit companies from directing PACs, but nonprofits — including advocacy groups like the NRA and trade organizations including unions — would still be allowed to spend as they do now.

Golden will keep a $5,000 donation from a progressive colleague whom he has distanced himself from. Some vulnerable and more moderate Democrats gave back donations that came from the political committee of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. They came in after House Democrats’ campaign arm turned over lawmakers’ transfer information to the progressive champion’s PAC without higher approval, according to Politico, and it led to a pressure campaign from Republicans. 

But Golden, who has distanced himself from Ocasio-Cortez, is keeping his donation, dismissing the idea that keeping the money means anything, calling it a “political game and a distraction.” He raised more than $500,000 in the first quarter of 2021 and noted that he also got money from Harlan Crow, a founding member of the conservative Club for Growth. Golden said he “could care less about either one” of the contributions.

NRA targets Biden, Collins and King in new Maine ads

The National Rifle Association is on the air in Maine with at least a five-figure ad buy targeting the White House — and Maine’s senators — on gun control. The ads, which began running Wednesday, bashed Biden’s calls to ban assault weapons and characterized his nominee to lead the federal firearms regulator, David Chipman, as “radical.” 

The ads encourage viewers to contact King and Collins, both of whom will have a vote on Chipman’s confirmation. Gun regulations are rarely popular in Maine, exemplified in recent memory by the defeat of a 2016 referendum that would have expanded background checks.

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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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...