Biennial Budget

Are Maine Democrats moving ahead with a majority budget?

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It appears Maine Democrats are looking to advance a majority budget in the next week to avoid working with their legislative colleagues on state spending issues. A press release issued Monday by the presiding officers of the Maine Legislature and co-chairs of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee states the committee is working to endorse biennial budget plan by the end of the week.

Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, joined by Sen. Cathy Breen and Rep. Teresa Pierce, said the committee was poised to report out a “Back-to-Basics” budget that “pays the bills and funds existing services” by week’s end “to provide Maine people, schools and businesses with stability as the economy reopens.”

The legislature passed a supplemental budget two weeks ago to meet the state’s financial obligations through the end of the current fiscal year, or June 30. Democrats have until April 1 to approve a biennial budget on a simple majority vote.

“Putting the biennial budget off until the final hour would be reckless, Jackson said in the release. “Mainers are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not interested in doing anything that jeopardizes our health and economic recovery. Right now, Republicans and Democrats have the opportunity to come together and pass a bipartisan budget that funds essential services. New initiatives can wait until later.”

“Getting our baseline budget finalized now is the responsible thing to do, Fecteau said. “We need to provide stability and predictability for Maine people and businesses, then deal with the federal aid coming into our state. Passing this Back-to-Basics budget now will set up our state for a strong economic recovery and will give our schools the opportunity to plan for re-opening in the fall.”

To be clear, it makes no difference in state government whether the next biennial budget is signed on March 23 or June 30 – state government is already funded through the end of the fiscal year. A budget simply needs to be approved before July 1. The only difference is Democrats won’t need Republican support to pass a budget that becomes law 90 days after its passage, rather than one enacted as emergency legislation closer to the end of the fiscal year.

The release claims passing a budget now is necessary to provide certainty in a number of areas where no concern for funding currently exists, particularly since a supplemental budget was just approved. The release posits funding for “critical services” is in jeopardy and says school districts need to know how much funding they’re getting from the state before they can reopen five days a week.

Dozens of schools are open five days a week already in Maine, and they didn’t need to know how much funding they would receive from the state over the next two years to make the decision. No funding for any cause is currently in jeopardy, as the release insinuates.

By taking this approach, the Democratic majority can pass an initial biennial budget without the support of their colleagues, setting a baseline of state spending with which their counterparts already disagree. Then Republicans would only have limited bargaining power in future supplemental budget negotiations, where lawmakers would allocate the federal funds Maine receives as a result of the most recent stimulus package passed by Congress (which includes billions to bail out state and local governments).

State aid in the so-called American Rescue Plan is 116 times larger than states’ projected revenue losses, according to the Tax Foundation. Maine state government is set to receive a little more than $1 billion from the legislation.

This idea of advancing a majority budget was promoted last week by Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance on its website, Maine Beacon. According to the Bangor Daily News, the governor endorsed the idea and called for a bipartisan vote on a baseline budget in a letter to lawmakers on Monday.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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