Inside Augusta

Potential budget deal reached in Senate, House rejects terminating Mills’ state of emergency

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The Maine Legislature convened in person on Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center to tackle the state’s supplemental budget and other bills reported out of committee, including a joint resolution in the House to end the state of emergency first declared by Governor Janet Mills on March 15, 2020.

Lengthy budget negotiations in the Senate caused Wednesday’s session to drag on into the evening, with both chambers finally calling it quits after passing LD 220, the supplemental budget, on engrossment. The House and Senate must still approve the measure on an enactment vote before it can move to Governor Mills’ desk. Those votes will occur tomorrow when the legislature reconvenes in the Civic Center at 10 a.m.

Senators struggled to come to an agreement on full tax conformity, an issue Republicans have been vocal about since Governor Mills announced her plan to impose state taxes on federal Paycheck Protection Program loans earlier this year.

The bill reported out of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee by majority Democrats conformed to the federal tax code on PPP, but not the entire federal tax code, including a snag related to provisions from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2017. Both parties also agreed to forgive up to $10,200 in state taxes on pandemic unemployment benefits during committee negotiations, but remained at odds on full tax conformity.

After a long recess, the chamber reconvened and Sen. Brad Farrin introduced a new amendment to the bill that addressed concerns raised by the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, adding $113,000 in staff positions and additional funding for the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services. The Senate then approved the bill by a 24-10 vote, with Farrin and Sen. Rick Bennett joining Democrats in support.

While both chambers passed the supplemental budget on engrossment, only Senate passed the bill with the two-thirds majority required to enact it as emergency legislation. The measure prevailed in the House earlier in the day by a vote of 83-66.

The House also rejected HP 596, a joint resolution sponsored by Rep. Peter Lyford, to end Governor Mills’ state of emergency. The measure failed 81-67 mostly along party lines, with one Republican – Rep. Nathan Carlow – voting with Democrats to retain the emergency declaration. Three of the chamber’s four independent representatives joined their Republican colleagues in support of the measure.

Sen. Bennett introduced a Senate version of the joint resolution – SP 333 – as Supplement No. 7 on the Senate Calendar. The body will consider the measure on Thursday.

Lawmakers again debated a bill to change Maine’s state flag to the so-called “1901 flag” on Wednesday. Maine’s current flag features the state seal – a farmer with a scythe, a seamen with an anchor and a moose beneath a pine tree – on a blue background. The measure failed in the House by a vote of 91-57.

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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