AUGUSTA, Maine — A bipartisan budget deal cleared the Maine Legislature on Thursday, although a lack of support from House Republicans meant it failed to get the two-thirds majority needed for it to take effect immediately.
The House approved the plan from the Legislature’s budget committee in a 80-58 vote on Thursday. The Senate approved it 22-9 in the evening. Gov. Janet Mills has said she will sign off on the addition, which is the major item that lawmakers need to finish before adjourning for the rest of the year.
Lawmakers needed two-thirds majorities in both chambers to enact the deal immediately rather than have it take effect 90 days later in October. Even though three out of four House Republican appropriators voted for the deal, House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, voted against it on Thursday after conservatives lambasted the deal.
Republicans opposed the plan particularly due to $25 million in startup funding for a Democratic paid leave program and the replacement of a property tax freeze program for seniors, Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a veteran appropriator and the sole House Republican to vote for the addition Thursday, said.
“This budget does nothing to help the people of the state of Maine in the long term,” Rep. Mark Blier, R-Buxton, a budget panel member who backed the deal there, said in a floor speech.
Any sort of bipartisan spending deal looked unlikely in the months since Democrats bypassed Republicans in March to pass the first part of a two-year budget totaling about $9.9 billion. Mills, a Democrat, then put forward her nearly $900 million proposed addition to use available funds, setting aside Republican tax-cut demands.
The revised addition shrunk to a net cost of just over $230 million in this fiscal year and $315 million in the next one, according to the Legislature’s fiscal office. If it does not pass with two-thirds majorities in both chambers, the money will not be available until late September.
In late June, the Legislature’s budget committee approved the compromise version. Key to the deal were various tax-related proposals, including one from Faulkingham to increase Maine’s pension deduction in the future based on the maximum Social Security benefit after expediting an increase from $30,000 to $35,000.
These changes divided Republicans, with conservatives arguing that the party should hold out for a better deal and not bless Democratic items added to the document, including $25 million in startup costs for a paid family and medical leave program that Republicans opposed.
Other items with bipartisan support include a child care overhaul from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, plus another $1.5 million to build additional rural addiction recovery housing that accepts parents with their children and $31 million to offer grants to Maine-based emergency medical services.
Also in the deal are $70 million to develop additional affordable housing and $7 million for food security and homeless shelters as well as funding to prevent student homelessness and to expand a Housing First program statewide.
“We did our due diligence and created a budget that is transformational,” Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said on the floor.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.