The morning fog lifts beyond the Burton M. Cross Building, left, and the State House, Wednesday, June 21, 2023, in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A key group will meet on Tuesday to settle one of the wonkier elements of state spending: choosing a small group of “zombie bills” to be funded, revived and passed into law.

That term was coined by the late (and great) Bangor Daily News reporter Christopher Cousins. It is the easiest way to explain what happens on the so-called Special Appropriations Table, which is the place that bills go when lawmakers like them and pass them but cannot pay for them immediately.

The context: Lobbyists, bless their hearts, hate this process, since it effectively leads to lots of work being wasted when lawmakers don’t come up with the money to fund their priorities. Some lawmakers have suggested reforms.

But it remains necessary as long as politicians continue to endorse ideas that they can’t really pay for, and that is not going away anytime soon.

This brings us to Tuesday, when the budget committee will meet to discuss   a massive list of bills that are sitting in this purgatory. There are 266 of them in all, and if you passed them and added up the costs, it would equal $1.4 billion in the current fiscal year alone.

Lawmakers only have $40 million or so to spend. It means that almost all of these ideas are going to die, which is why they are zombies now.

What’s on the table: Some are massive in scope, including a $744 million cost of living increase for state employees and teachers and a large increase in behavioral health support for K-12 students. Others are smaller, like a sales tax exemption for diapers and a bill to provide period products in schools.

The Democrats who lead the Legislature will be driving this process. Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, have 25 items between them awaiting funding, with some of them carrying little in cost.

What’s next: Anything the budget committee picks up will have to be assured passage in the Senate, which needs to approve these decisions ahead of a final sign-off from Gov. Janet Mills.

The appropriations table is hard to understand. But if you know how to watch it, it is one of the easier ways to separate the items that merely stem from lawmakers’ good intentions and what they will work hard to fund and pass.

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...