Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, is pictured in the Maine Senate chamber in Augusta on June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Last time the Democratic-led Legislature moved a state budget forward in late March, Republicans complained they were being bypassed. When it happened again on Thursday, there was both comity and uncertainty.

The carefully orchestrated move by Democrats came after a Tuesday meeting between Gov. Janet Mills and top lawmakers. Just after that, it was clear that a budget was going to move before an end-of-month deadline that allows a document passed by a simple majority to take effect by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

For now, Democrats are negotiating with Republicans with hopes of inking a deal.

The process: Democrats began to move a two-year spending plan through the Legislature on a timeframe that would allow it to pass by simple majorities. Republicans mostly acceded to the timeframe and joined their colleagues in rounds of early and unanimous votes.

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, emerged from closed doors on Thursday by saying he was “grateful for the collaboration” that led lawmakers to take a series of unanimous votes on a pared-down budget.

“Maine people have charged us with crafting a responsible two-year budget that allows the state to pay its bills and fulfill its obligations to Maine people,” Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who co-chairs the budget panel, said in a statement before the votes.

Democrats are targeting passage of a budget by next week expected to sit at just over $9.8 billion, below a state spending cap that Republicans want to stick to. In the spring, lawmakers would consider new initiatives in Mills’ $10.3 billion proposal, leaving roughly $450 million on the table for future talks.

No promises: After a series of votes on Thursday, Bennett stressed that there was no ultimate budget deal in hand yet, saying lawmakers still need to work through certain items and his side must win some assurances on what the second set of negotiations will entail. They are still pushing for an income tax cut.

“It’s about fashioning something where everybody feels like their priorities are recognized,” he said.

What’s next: Democrats are in control of Augusta, so they still have the advantage. Their move this week ensures that some sort of budget passes by the end of next week. It is unclear whether Republicans will join them, leaving this set of negotiations far from settled. The one to follow is another big question mark.

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...