Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, R-Fairfield, is pictured on May 6, 2019. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Two Republican lawmakers joined a lawsuit against Gov. Janet Mills and Democratic leaders challenging the constitutionality of the process used to pass a partisan state budget in March.

The lawsuit names Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, and Mills as defendants, claiming they colluded with each other to pass a partisan budget bill earlier than necessary, adjourn the Legislature to enact it and call a special legislative session to finish work for the year.

Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, R-Fairfield, and Rep. Randy Greenwood, R-Wales, are the legislators currently named as plaintiffs, with Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, representing Respect Maine, a nonprofit that joined the lawsuit, according to a spokesperson for House Republicans.

The suit was originally filed in April in Kennebec County Superior Court by William Clardy, a former Republican House candidate from Augusta who said he would ask for a temporary injunction to put legislative meetings on pause if the House and Senate continued to meet, which they have as part of the current special session. The lawsuit has since added another Maine resident, Michelle Tucker, as a plaintiff, in addition to the legislators.

Democrats used their majorities to push through a $9.9 billion, two-year budget in March. They set aside for the second time since 2021 a consensus process that characterized state spending for 15 years while refusing a GOP demand to include a promise for a $200 million tax cut.

After passing the budget in late March, Democrats had to technically adjourn the Legislature so it could take effect by the end of June ahead of the next fiscal year. Apart from drawing Republican ire, the move could bring unintended consequences for referendums slated for the ballot in November.

The lawsuit says Clardy “believes that some or all of the additional spending” that the Legislature may authorize from now until the end of June “will result in increased taxation, and that some of the legislation will mandate the imposition of costs on the people of Maine,” such as tax increases and “unfunded mandates” for local and county governments.

Andrews argued in Tuesday’s news release that the Maine Constitution says the governor can call a special session only if there is an “extraordinary occasion,” such as a pandemic or a natural disaster. The Legislature’s decision to adjourn in March was “not an extraordinary occasion,” as it happens “every year and bills die because of it,” Andrews said.

Claims made in a lawsuit represent one side of a case. Spokespeople for Mills, Jackson and Ross did not immediately comment Tuesday morning on the suit. Attorney General Aaron Frey’s office will represent the state in the case, a spokesperson said, adding the office does not comment on pending litigation.

Tuesday’s news release from House Republicans also said presiding officers “acquiesced” to Mills instead of “defending the Legislature’s authority.” However, Talbot Ross is backing a measure that would ask Maine’s high court to weigh in on Mills’ finding that the Legislature missed its chance to weigh in on referendums slated for the 2023 ballot because of the adjournment move last month.

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Billy Kobin

Billy Kobin is a politics reporter who joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked at The Indianapolis Star and The Courier Journal (Louisville, Ky.) after graduating...