The Maine Legislature will convene in person on Tuesday to approve the state’s next biennial budget, likely along party lines. The legislature has not passed a majority budget since 2005.
Democrats announced the “Back-to-Basics” budget earlier this week that would spend $8.34 billion over the biennium, slightly less than Governor Janet Mills’ original budget plan. Despite describing their budget as a “no-frills” bare bones proposal, it would increase government spending by roughly $400 million. This does not include any future funding the state will receive and spend as a result of the most recent federal stimulus package.
The Democrats’ budget is currently a spreadsheet, not a formal budget document, and would increase taxes on Mainers who purchase digital streaming subscriptions by almost $10 million. They will use an existing concept draft, Rep. Teresa Pierce’s LD 715, as the bill to advance their plan through the legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. The bill is scheduled for a work session on Thursday at 10 a.m.
Republicans in the legislature held a press conference on Wednesday criticizing the Democrats’ plan. They called their budget incomplete and raised concerns about what amount of future spending would be piled onto the $8.34 billion proposal.
Sen. Jeff Timberlake noted the plan includes a tax increase and is missing provisions both parties would endorse, including pandemic response measures supported by the governor, according to the Portland Press Herald.
“With all the projected revenues coming into the state, the last thing we need is a tax increase,” Timberlake said.
To pass a biennial budget on a majority vote, Democrats must approve their plan by April 1. Laws passed by the legislature take effect 90 days after adjournment. By passing their budget and adjourning, Democrats can ensure a biennial budget is in place by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 without collaborating with their colleagues on spending issues.
Democrats told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday that they would move to bring members back for a special session “immediately” following adjournment. There are only two ways a special session can be called in Maine – with support from a majority of both caucuses or by the governor. IF Republicans do not agree to reconvene for a special session, Governor Mills would have to call one.
At least one independent will join his Republican colleagues in opposition to the majority budget plan. Rep. Jeff Evangelos told the BDN he was “disgusted” by the upcoming budget vote and will not support it.
“Democrats should think long and hard about the consequences of this abuse of power,” he said.