AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Democrats pushed a $9.8 billion state budget to the chamber floors on Friday night after talks with Republicans broke down.
It was clear that negotiations had broken down after legislative Republicans left an afternoon meeting with Gov. Janet Mills. Their budget committee members left the State House before Democrats took votes finalizing a package that will go to the chambers next week.
The move effectively ensures that a state budget will pass by the end of the month. It will also be the second budget in two years rammed through by Democrats alone in a break from the consensus process that mostly governed state spending for 15 years.
House Republicans led by Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham of Winter Harbor had conditioned their support of this budget on a Democratic promise to pass an income tax cut. Rep. Melanie Sachs, D-Freeport, the co-chair of the budget panel, said basic government services “cannot and will not be contingent on future negotiation or last-minute amendments.”
“It is a budget about predictability, stability and good governance,” she said while opening committee votes on Friday.
The document advanced to the Legislature by Democrats on Friday strips out many new initiatives in Mills’ $10.3 billion budget proposal in January, staying below a spending cap in law that Republicans wanted to adhere to. That will leave at least $400 million in extra revenue for lawmakers to consider spending as they continue their work into the spring.
The move was a replay of 2021 spending talks, when Democrats angered Republicans by going around them to pass a two-year budget for the first time since 2006. But the minority party was in the room and still negotiating when the budget panel started taking votes on Thursday.
Things broke down on Friday. Faulkingham shared a draft of a tax promise that Republicans were seeking, which would have set aside at least $200 million to cut taxes in a way that would primarily benefit low- and middle-income Mainers.
Senate Republicans had been circulating a wider list of requests, but Faulkingham said they dropped many of them to “get in line” with his caucus. Twenty minutes before the committee assembled, House Republicans issued a statement saying talks had broken down over a demand that they called a relatively small one.
“The truth is, Democrats just proved, beyond a doubt, they don’t care one tiny bit about Maine’s hard-working people,” Joel Stetkis, the chair of the Maine Republican Party, wrote in an email to party members.
Democrats are working under an effective March 31 deadline to pass the budget by simple majority, allowing it to become law by the new fiscal year in July and ensuring no state shutdown. Under the normal consensus process, budgets are negotiated in late June but pass with two-thirds majorities so they take effect immediately, forcing bipartisan buy-in.
Democrats are branding this as a “current services” budget that sets aside new programs and funding sources. They will still mostly be in control of the leftover money in the spring. If Republicans do not approve their plans at that time, they can still pass them into law after a 90-day delay.