Maine Gov. Janet Mills stands at a podium delivering a speech.
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

A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.

Lots of Maine’s normally talkative politicians were relatively silent after a crucial Tuesday afternoon meeting between Gov. Janet Mills and top legislative Democrats and Republicans on the two-year state budget.

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said he was “sworn to secrecy” on the discussions, while House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said leaders are working toward a consensus document.

Republicans have been trying to prevent majority Democrats from bypassing them and enacting a budget on their own, as they did in 2021. While that looks likely this time around, the minority party seems optimistic that it can win something by the time budget talks are through.

The mechanics: If Democrats are going to pass a budget without Republican support, they need to do so by March 31 to allow it to go into effect by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. This would be the second simple-majority budget in two years, bypassing the consensus process that mostly governed state spending for 15 years.

It is likely that the majority party will strip new initiatives from Mills’ $10.3 billion spending offer and pass that plan by month’s end, according to a source briefed on the meeting. Spokespeople for Mills and Democratic leaders did not respond to questions on that Tuesday evening. 

If that happens, new initiatives would be considered in an addendum to the budget this spring, like in 2021. The party was incensed when Mills and Democrats advanced a budget on their own two years ago, but they went along with that revised document later in the year.

What they’re saying: “I remain optimistic,” said Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a budget committee member who said talks were ongoing, praised the governor’s work in bringing lawmakers together and said discussions are continuing and that a budget path should be clear by Thursday.

Mills spokesperson Ben Goodman issued a statement calling the meeting “positive and productive.”

“She will continue to work with them in the coming days to discuss potential avenues to move the budget forward,” he said of the governor.

Between the lines: Earlier Tuesday, Stewart told reporters a majority-only budget would be a “tremendous blow” to the Legislature as an institution. Republicans are now looking to hold state spending at a cap of roughly $9.9 billion and for some kind of income tax cut for lower-income Mainers.

Their relative silence on the talks is an indication that they think they can win a concession either in the budget that could come this month or later on.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...