Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “When it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to use the money for a class trip, it felt really weird to try and use the money to do something else, or keep it for ourselves,” said Liefe Temple, an Islesboro Central School senior, on donating the money her class would have used on a senior trip to help fund COVID-19 vaccine clinics on the island. “That’s not what the community gave it to us for.”
What we’re watching today
The Legislature’s budget committee still remains apart on hundreds of items as the session barrels toward its end. Both parties were working through the weekend to discuss items in Gov. Janet Mills’ adjusted two-year budget at a spending mark of $8.8 billion, but they did not meet with each other. Democrats and Republicans have also not come to terms on the governor’s $1.1 billion stimulus spending plan and her pared-down bond package.
The stalemate continues as the Legislature looks poised to blow through its mid-June deadline to finish up. Session days were only originally scheduled through Wednesday. A marathon set of days last week cut through a serious amount of bills, but a quarter of the ones introduced this session still need final action from the Legislature. Another 10 percent need to get funded or are studies that must finally be approved by legislative leaders.
The fights around Mills’ financial packages may prove to be contentious as the end of the fiscal year approaches. The budget committee still has a plethora of items to vote on, including hundreds of new positions and increased Medicaid spending. Republicans have been pushing against 200 more state employee positions and a ban on flavored tobacco as well.
Those items strike at the core of the division we have seen between the parties thus far: while there has been agreement on a need for tax relief and upping spending on municipal revenue sharing and education, the size of the package and the use of bonding are still up in the air.
While the Legislature has tried to set deadlines, they are technically in a special session after Democrats passed an initial budget with a simple majority in March. That is an option for the majority party again, but lawmakers can also drag this out past the typical deadlines in an unconventional year.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Janet Mills’ wait-and-see legislative style contributes to chaotic end of pandemic session,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The governor’s style and the COVID-19 pandemic have made for a chaotic finish. Mills’ tendency to stay out of legislative fights until the last minute is causing frustration in a session that has led lawmakers to vote on bills in marathon spurts. Remaining work will include thorny discussions on Mills’ new $8.8 billion budget and her plan for $1.1 billion in federal aid.”
Some of the high-profile bills to come up in the House last week will likely be in the Senate today. In the upper chamber, expect to see legislators tackle some of the biggest issues from last week, including one that passed the House to close Maine’s last youth prison by 2023 and another that failed in the lower chamber which would end at-will employment in many cases. The House calendar is mostly rote today as the chambers push through paper, but it is expected to enact a bill that would prohibit companies owned by foreign governments from giving to referendum campaigns. It passed the House and Senate last week.
— “8 fully vaccinated Mainers have died from COVID-19. Vaccines still prevent more deaths,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “These so-called breakthrough infections are rare, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said last week. The state has identified 426 cases of the virus in fully vaccinated people, accounting for about 1 of every 1,600 vaccinated people in Maine. … But the deaths are tragedies for families who assumed vaccines would eliminate COVID-19 risk and raise concerns among people with compromised immune systems and their loved ones.”
The school mask mandate is going away with the governor set to end Maine’s state of emergency on June 30. Mills’ move, which was announced Friday, will have relatively few effects because the most sweeping executive orders that she put into effect — including the mask mandate and business capacity limits — have been rolled back. The last major restriction is the school mask mandate, which will now be optional for districts next year. Here’s your soundtrack.
— “Susan Collins floats unused aid, electric vehicle fees to fund $1.2T infrastructure bill,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “It is the latest in a series of attempts to bridge an impasse on the issue between the White House and Republicans. Biden cut off negotiations with Senate Republicans last week, but the new bipartisan group quickly emerged from the sidelines of that deal. A group of 58 House members evenly divided between the parties has put forward its own $1.25 trillion proposal.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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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