Maine’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee met on Thursday to hold a work session on LD 715, a concept draft that morphed into Democrats’ “Back-to-Basics” budget announced earlier this week.
The majority voted out of committee a new iteration of the plan on an 8-4 vote. The legislature’s presiding officers and chairs of the budget committee said the spending bill will be advanced in time for it to become law before the next fiscal year, or July 1, with or without bipartisan support.
LD 715 never received a true public hearing in the legislature this session, as noted by Rep. Patrick Corey of Windham during Thursday’s work session. I’ve previously made the case for eliminating concept drafts for this same reason. Lawmakers are set to convene in person in Augusta on Tuesday at the Civic Center for final votes on the bill.
The plan comes in at $8.33 billion over the biennium and no longer features a 6% tax on digital streaming services, which was included in the original proposal. The provision was stripped in time for Thursday’s work session after opposition was raised to increasing taxes when the state is set to receive $1 billion from the federal government as a result of the recent stimulus package passed by Congress.
Republicans on the committee voted against the plan and urged their colleagues to reconsider moving forward with a hastily-arranged majority budget plan.
“At a time when we should be meeting openly and transparently, some have been quietly crafting a budget with the intent to bypass the voices of a cross section of Mainers, going forward without their peers, Corey said.
“Mainers have been through enough hardship already. We have time to push the reset button and show our constituents over the next few months we can work together, restore civility, craft a budget and put them first.”
Democrats remain optimistic their plan will receive two-thirds support in both chambers so it can be passed as emergency legislation, avoiding the need to adjourn to ensure the budget becomes law by July 1. This is unlikely, however, considering Republicans’ uniform opposition in committee on Thursday and Wednesday press conference criticizing the plan.
If the legislature adjourns, Democrats have said they will immediately work to arrange a special session. It’s unclear whether a majority of Republicans would agree to convene a special session if the budget passes on a simple majority vote. If not, Governor Mills could call one to allow the legislature to continue its work, coupled with whatever measures Democrats approve on Tuesday to keep the session’s remaining work alive.
As it stands today, the stage is set for the first majority budget in Maine since 2005.
Photo: John Brandt from Augusta, ME, USA – Augusta Civic Center, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63205041