At 3:45 in the morning on Wednesday, the Appropriations Committee voted nearly unanimously to approve a spending package totaling approximately $800 million.
Only one member of the Committee, Rep. Jack Ducharme (R-Madison), voted in opposition to the budget.
“We pushed hard for a lot of things that we felt very strongly about, and I’m grateful that we have come together,” Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) of the Appropriations Committee said.
Rep. Melanie Sachs (D-Freeport), chair of the Appropriations Committee, also spoke about the budget. “I want to note the amazing, wonderful investment..in the Maine people that this is going to engender,” she said.
According to the Bangor Daily News, the Appropriations Committee’s decision came after a series of votes taken over the weekend that seemed to indicate that the budget would ultimately be passed along party lines.
Over the past four years, Democratic lawmakers have twice approved spending packages by only a simple majority, something that had not traditionally been done in nearly a decade and a half.
By the end of Wednesday’s late-night work session, a motion from Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) was approved by the Committee, increasing Maine’s pension exemption from $30,000 to $35,000 and indexing the exemption to the maximum Social Security benefit going forward.
Increasing the exemption to $35,000, however, was already included in the supplemental budget for fiscal year 2022-23.
Consequently, indexing the exemption is currently the only substantial concession that the Democratic majority is known to have made to the Committee’s Republican minority during negotiations.
During budget talks earlier this year, Republicans in the Legislature were advocating adamantly for $200 million to be set aside for tax cuts benefiting low- and middle-income Mainers.
The Bangor Daily News also reported that the spending package included several bipartisan line items, such as “$1.5 million for rural addiction recovery housing for families and a fix to Maine’s property tax freeze program for seniors.”
Also in the budget was an allocation of “$12 million to support offshore wind projects in the Gulf of Maine.”
In light of the infrastructure funding bill signed into law earlier this month, the Appropriations Committee voted to strike from the spending package provisions dedicating money to roads and bridges.
The final budget produced by the Committee is set to cost approximately $100 million less than the original proposal offered by Gov. Janet Mills (D).
CEO of the Maine Policy Institute Matthew Gagnon issued a statement responding to the information available to date on the bill:
This deal doesn’t go far enough in providing tax relief for Maine people. The pension exemption increase to $35,000 was already in Maine law. An additional and minor increase to the exemption is not worth supporting such extravagant spending. Maine Republicans should hold the line on income tax reform for all Mainers or withhold their support from this grotesque amount of state spending.
Rep. Ducharme, the only legislator on the Appropriations Committee to vote against the budget, also provided a statement to the Maine Wire:
We accomplished some things in reducing the revenue stream going into Augusta in the long term and that is positive for conservatives. They can’t spend more than they have, so if we are able to reduce the amount coming in, they will be forced to slow the growth of spending. Unfortunately, we have to endure all the gimmicks and tricks that are being used while Rep. Sachs pontificates about transparency and fairness.
There are some good things in the budget, but on balance, it really isn’t a great budget.
Before going into effect, legislators in both the House and the Senate would need to vote in favor of the budget.
Disclosure: The Maine Wire is a project of the Maine Policy Institute.