Maine Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross applauds after Gov. Janet Mills took the oath of office on Wednesday night, Jen. 4, 2023, in Augusta. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

This story will be updated.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills’ office rebuked a top legislative Democrat on Thursday after saying she is threatening to oppose a key spending plan if the governor does not back several tribal-rights measures.

The situation between Mills and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland is one of the top examples of Democratic tension spilling from behind closed doors during the Mills era, threatening a $900 million state budget addition proposed by the governor on Wednesday and adding uncertainty to a long list of major issues the Legislature is considering this year.

While Mills promised to reset the state’s broken relationship with tribes after taking office in 2019 and signed a bill last year giving them control of a new mobile sports betting market, she has been skeptical of a sweeping rights expansion championed by Talbot Ross that would effectively throw out the terms of a landmark 1980 settlement treating tribes like cities and towns.

Talbot Ross’ chief of staff, Bill Brown, spoke with Jeremy Kennedy, his counterpart in Mills’ office, on Thursday to outline the speaker’s demands on the budget, Scott Ogden, the governor’s spokesperson, said in a statement saying the speaker’s actions seem “more like a tactic out of a Washington, D.C. playbook than how we govern here in Maine.”

“That is not responsible or good governance,” he said. “Each bill has real implications for Maine people, and each deserves to be given full, careful, and independent consideration.”

Talbot Ross’ office declined to comment. But the three measures that Ogden said Talbot Ross wants the governor to back are a yet-to-be-printed bill mirroring the provisions of a federal law on the handling of child abuse and neglect cases involving tribal children, as well as a state constitutional amendment forcing treaty obligations to be printed alongside the Maine Constitution and a bill to give tribes veto power over certain laws affecting them.

Talbot Ross had been at the center of negotiations on a bipartisan measure being crafted to withstand a potential veto from the governor, although Ogden said Talbot Ross’ staff indicated that the speaker plans to reintroduce a bill on that topic and hold hearings on it in the fall.

The episode adds a major hurdle to budget talks. Democrats bypassed Republicans in March to pass a $9.9 billion spending bill that set aside new initiatives the governor proposed. Virtually all of them are in the new measure unveiled by Mills on Wednesday, including $400 million in transportation funding intended to draw down $1 billion in federal funding.

Mills left out income tax cuts that Republicans are pushing for as well as items that Democrats want to add, including a child tax credit expansion. Talbot Ross teased her critique of the plan in a statement late Wednesday, saying “there is more work that can be done” on childcare and providing “thoughtful transitions” from federal COVID-19 programs.

Sustained from different ends of the spectrum could serve to kill the spending bill altogether or whittle it down significantly. Two-thirds approval in both chambers is needed to enact any spending plan immediately, while majorities could put one into effect within three months.

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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...