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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.
“I really can’t stay / Baby, it’s cold outside.”
I nominate that winter tune as the theme song of the 131st Maine Legislature.
With this weekend’s winter storm bearing down on us, it is definitely getting cold outside after a mild start to the winter season.
Financially, many Mainers find themselves metaphorically cold. In December 2020, two years ago, No. 2 heating oil cost a touch more than $2 per gallon. This year, we started the month at nearly $5.
It is a similar story with kerosene.
That led Gov. Janet Mills to propose a massive, nine-figure spending bill to the new Maine Legislature on their very first day.
Then it went to the Senate. And came up short due to GOP opposition.
But it does highlight the importance of process in the Maine Legislature.
One of the Senate Republicans’ objections to the bill came from the lack of a public hearing. For all the gnashing of teeth, it is a fair point. That is why one Democrat joined with Republicans to send the question to a committee. Do we really want the Legislature to spend more than $400 million without so much as a single hearing?
Democrats argued that a hearing was simply unfeasible, particularly before January. The refrain seemed to be “we really can’t stay” in Augusta, even if it is cold outside.
That appears to be changing.
The Legislature was inaugurated on Dec. 7. Would it really be impossible for them to have a meeting between then and New Years?
Of course not. That is why legislative leaders are now looking at a way to have a degree of process. This would allow for engagement on the issues and, possibly, enactment of an emergency bill.
The Legislative process can be both challenging and frustrating. And for all the kabuki theater of public engagement, the real work happens behind closed doors. The results are released as deals get made.
It happened this week on the spending bill. GOP Sen. Rick Bennett and Democratic Sen. Nicole Grohoski outlined a proposed amendment to break some of the substantive impasse between the parties.
When you spend a little bit of time working on an issue, you get new ideas on how to solve it. Maybe the compromise is a wiser, more targeted solution. Maybe it is a government boondoggle picking winners and losers. But however you describe it, it is another option on the table.
Simply because the Legislature has historically not met in December does not mean they can’t. Everyone there actively sought the job. They knew it came with a time commitment. We can expect them to follow through.
While there are some very real challenges facing Augusta, massive budget shortfalls are not yet among them. Elected officials have enough breathing room to really think about the issues before them. That should be particularly true when considering a half-a-billion dollar spending bill.
Because, while it may be cold outside, we really need lawmakers to stay and do the work.