Gov. Janet Mills delivers her State of the Budget address on Feb. 14, 2023, at the State House in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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You can’t say we didn’t see this coming. Two months ago, when Gov. Janet Mills unveiled her gargantuan, $10.3 billion budget proposal, I warned that for all her talk of bipartisanship and collaborative government, there was a very strong likelihood that she would once again ram a highly partisan “majority budget” through the Legislature, rather than pursue consensus.

It was my belief from the very beginning that, despite all the flowery rhetoric in the campaign and its immediate aftermath, Mills never had any intention of working with Republicans at all.

Oh, she said she wanted to. She said she hoped to. But if you paid close attention to her words, you heard very carefully crafted language. In January, for instance, when asked about the potential for a majority budget, Mills stated, “this budget envisions a two-thirds enactment and I see no reason why it shouldn’t achieve that.”

Note the framing there. She did not say that she hoped to work with Republicans to craft a meaningful compromise or incorporate ideas from across the aisle. She simply stated that she felt the budget she had already proposed should be approved by a two-thirds majority.

To many, myself included, the only situation that seemed likely to produce “bipartisanship” was if the Republican Party entirely capitulated to her budget demands and endorsed them wholesale.

I assumed she would allow time to pass, and then as the end of March approached — the statutory limit for passing a budget with only Democratic votes — we would hear her plant seeds suggesting that the Republicans are being unreasonable. This would plow the road ahead of her, allowing her to later claim she “tried” to work with the other side, but that they were too supposedly “intransigent,” necessitating the passage of a highly partisan state budget along party lines.

And wouldn’t you know it, with two weeks to go, that is exactly what we are seeing. On Monday, Michael Shepherd of the Bangor Daily News reported that the governor and legislative Democrats had been huddling together, talking about a majority budget. “Last week, I got a tip that the idea of a majority budget came up in a recent meeting between Mills and the top Democrats in the Legislature,” Shepherd wrote, noting that the House speaker and Senate president failed to respond, when asked about the meeting.

The legislative process has obviously accelerated, too. Already we have seen 14 report backs sent to the Appropriations Committee from the various legislative panels reviewing the individual pieces of the budget. These typically take much longer as lawmakers review the budget in detail, suggesting that they are in a rush to pass these reports to allow for the possibility of passing a majority budget early, just like happened two years ago.  

Further indicating what is afoot, Mills spokesperson Scott Ogden earlier this week began to fulfill my aforementioned prophecy by accusing Republicans of “reneg[ing] on the commitments they previously supported,” setting the stage nicely for his boss.

Yet to date, Republicans have barely said anything about the budget. For the most part, the main “pushback” such as it is, has been a timid request for the possibility of very minor structural tax reform, and an objection to the Mills administration violating the structure of a spending cap law that she herself voted for 20 years ago.

Hardly intransigent and unreasonable.

There is still time left before the end of March, so I certainly could be wrong and all could be rainbows and happiness in Augusta this spring. But if I am right, we are two weeks away from another highly partisan budget being shoved through the Legislature, proving how unserious all those promises were.

Which honestly doesn’t even bother me that much in a general sense. Mills and the Democrats won the 2022 election, and elections have consequences. I don’t necessarily begrudge the bare-knuckles partisan thrashing we often see in both directions. If Republicans want to prevent getting sidelined and marginalized, they need to win elections. Simple as that.

But if Mills does choose the partisan, ideological road, it will mean that all those campaign promises and all that hot-air rhetoric from the campaign were completely untrue. She promised Mainers that she would govern like a moderate pragmatist, working with those who disagree with her to craft common-sense solutions for Maine. Those promises were the basis of many people’s votes for her and should never be so easily discarded.

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...