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With less than a month before the scheduled end of the 2023 legislative session, many in the State House are looking to Gov. Janet Mills for signs on how she will handle big issues. Relatively few have come in public.
This has led the Democrats who lead the Legislature to channel the governor in public, work her over behind the scenes or simply wait for her to publicize her opposition to some of their key priorities. There are many examples of this so far, with some of these policy areas crashing together at this late date and uncertainty plaguing the party’s agenda.
The big causes: One large example of this is paid family and medical leave, a topic on which Mills has not weighed in since two top Democrats rolled out their proposal last week.
Business groups met with the governor weeks ago, with one lobbyist saying she shared their concerns. But the sponsors of the measure said the governor is broadly supportive of their effort if not all the details.
“We know that she’s reviewing it and looking at it, and we’ve been grateful for the conversations we have going from there,” Assistant Senate Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, told reporters on Monday.
That’s all we have on the measure because Mills’ office has not answered questions on the topic over the last two weeks. The main dispute between Democrats that it has discussed this month is when a Mills spokesperson rebuked House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, for a threat to hold up a spending plan if the governor did not reverse herself to embrace a ream of tribal-rights bills that are a priority of the progressive speaker.
But the governor’s office has not answered questions over the last week on Talbot Ross’ effort to expand Medicaid to asylum seekers, a proposal that enjoys solid support from legislative Democrats and advocacy groups but is roundly opposed by Republicans.
What could change: Debate around it could change after Sanford struggled to deal with a wave of asylum seekers from the greater Portland area who have been led to Maine in part by generous benefits at the state level.
“Ultimately, it is a moral and economic imperative that all people living in Maine are treated fairly, with adequate and affordable health care,” Talbot Ross spokesperson Mary-Erin Casale said in a Monday statement that did not address the governor’s position.
How she works: Contrast these situations with Mills’ behavior in situations where she wants to pass bills. Her controversial abortion-rights bill was released with enough Democratic co-sponsors to get it through both chambers. When she rolled out an expanded set of business tax incentives, she got top lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and business groups to issue statements of support.
Another clue about Mills’ motivations came in that $900 million spending plan released earlier in the month. It contained money for many Democratic initiatives, but it set aside priorities of party leaders including a larger child tax credit that the governor’s administration opposed in testimony in early May. Unless things change, that move may keep the bill out of the budget.
What’s next: The silence so far may serve as Mills’ way of trying to chill the legislative environment in her favor. But Democrats seem likely to advance many of their priorities, including some that conflict with the governor. She is going to have to speak out soon, even though quiet is key in her State House playbook.