House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross speaks at the State House in this Dec. 7, 2022, file photo, in Augusta, Maine. Talbot Ross unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday to give Indigenous tribes in Maine more rights but would not restore full sovereignty to the Maine tribes. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Last week was an important one in Augusta, where the Democratic-led Legislature moved paid family and medical leave, child care reform and an overhaul of the property tax freeze program for seniors through committees.

But there are still some major obstacles for each of these items to clear with lawmakers trying to finish their work this month. The major one is a spending plan that has been fraught virtually since the day Gov. Janet Mills rolled it out in May but seems to be moving forward.

The context: The $900 million roadmap set aside several Democratic priorities and ignored a Republican desire for income tax, leaving those on both sides of Mills disappointed. The next day, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, delivered a threat that she would not support the budget if Mills didn’t back certain tribal-rights bills.

But lawmakers have kept crafting a budget, with members of the appropriations committee working over the weekend behind closed doors even after Mills delivered fresh opposition to the speaker’s harried but bipartisan bill released last week that aims to allow beneficial federal laws to automatically apply to Maine tribes. It is a state version of an approach tried at the federal level by U.S Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District.

Even though many Democrats disagree with parts of Mills’ spending plan, it contains crucial items for them. For example, almost nobody in Augusta opposes the $400 million for transportation that aims to draw down up to a $1 billion in matching federal funds.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, finally came to a deal with the Mills administration on his high-priority child care package, putting it on a steadier track to passage.

What’s next: All of this is to underscore the difficult position that Talbot Ross has put herself in on tribal rights. She has apparently not moved Mills while the rest of the Legislature’s work continues. Other priorities of hers, including an expansion of MaineCare to asylum seekers, are on precarious footing with the governor   remaining silent on the issue.

Mills will also hold the key to paid leave getting through the State House, although progressives have a trump card by being able to put a referendum on their rival proposal on the 2024 ballot. But Mills will be a gatekeeper on the budget as well, and it looks like Democrats have a growing list of incentives to get a deal done there that at least satisfies their side.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...