Gov. Janet Mills held a private meeting Tuesday with legislative leaders and budget writers to discuss negotiations over the state’s next two-year spending plan. The discussion comes amid growing concern from Republicans that Democrats will flex their majority to ram through the governor’s $10.3 billion proposal.
Democrats have until April 1 to enact a budget on their own to avoid a government shutdown in July, a move that could have ramifications for bipartisan negotiations on other initiatives.
A deal involving Republicans would give lawmakers three additional months to enact a bipartisan budget before July 1, but there’s been no measurable progress on that front as the GOP continues to rally around income tax and spending cuts while Democrats call for a specific proposal for either, or both.
It was under those circumstances — and a looming deadline — that Senate minority leader Trey Stewart, a Republican from Presque Isle, told reporters earlier Tuesday that he suspected Democrats were going to push their own spending plan.
“All signs point to that, which is unfortunate I think,” he said. “I think if that does happen … that would be a tremendous blow to the institution that is the Legislature and the process we are supposed to be utilizing here in the state of Maine.”
But Stewart had little to say after he and other legislative leaders met with the governor later in the day.
That was true of nearly all of the participants in the meeting who were approached by Maine Public for comment outside the governor’s cabinet room.
Republican Rep. Sawin Millett, a member of the budget writing committee, did say that the meeting was productive and that all sides agreed to continue negotiating.
“I would say it was a good discussion,” he said. “I think we made a lot of progress in terms of agreeing to continue working together rather than separating. And the parties kind of outlined the first step and then we’ll come back and talk about the next step.”
The governor’s office offered a similar assessment through Mills’ spokesperson Ben Goodman.
“The Governor felt the meeting was positive and productive, and she appreciated the engagement from leaders of both parties and both houses,” Goodman said in a statement. “She will continue to work with them in the coming days to discuss potential avenues to move the budget forward.”
The budget committee has made progress on large portions of the budget, but typically the most difficult negotiations center on a small portion of the overall spending plan.
And the outcome of those talks often hinges on trust, which has been in short supply at the state house in recent years.
In 2017, House Republicans and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage forced a shutdown of state government, a move that factored into Democrats’ decision four years later to pass a majority budget.
If Democrats go that route again, they’ll have to get the process going by next week.
This story appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.