AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature is scheduled to leave the State House this week and will not have a new two-year budget in hand until the end of the month at the earliest with the two parties far apart on key aspects of Gov. Janet Mills’ $8.8 billion proposal.
Budget discussions have been complicated this year. The Legislature brokered a supplemental budget over two long days in March. Then, weeks later, Democrats pushed through an initial two-year budget over Republican objections with a simple majority for the first time since 2005, stating a desire to avoid uncertainty around federal aid and revenue projections.
Democrats and Republicans have made little progress on Mills’ updated budget. Negotiators have been working on weekends to hammer out some differences but have not discussed the budget publicly since June 1 as lawmakers sprinted through hundreds of bills in a marathon set of session days.
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said there was a “distinct possibility” the Legislature will adjourn Wednesday without a budget. He noted Mills’ proposal on how to spend $1.1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief has not had a work session and that the two proposals should be worked together.
The timeline is not as urgent as it would be in a regular year, but shows how complicated negotiations around money have become as Maine is flush with cash. There is some agreement about including property tax relief, revenue sharing and some health care initiatives.
Rep. Barbara Cardone, D-Bangor, said the budget panel will likely begin meeting again this week to discuss the budget. She was not sure exactly when it would be discussed but noted the Office of Fiscal and Program Review would likely need several days to review a final product.
Mills’ new budget proposal includes $187 million to boost Maine’s K-12 public education share to 55 percent, a threshold mandated by voters in 2004 but never met. It would also include $151 million for provider rates and expanded dental care coverage under Medicaid.
Elements like money used to fill an expected loss in revenue from the sale of flavored tobacco products have been heavily lobbied and discussed. Timberlake said other sticking points include 200 new government positions — 150 of which would be permanent — and the use of bonding when the state has $940 million in new revenue projections over the next two years, but that discussions are still relatively amicable.
“No one has really drawn a line in the sand yet,” he said.