Maine lawmakers move to cleave governor’s budget in two

Lawmakers in Maine hoping to avoid a government shutdown at the turn of the fiscal year are working to cleave Gov. Janet Mills’ $10.3 billion biennial budget proposal in two.

The state Senate’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee announced on Thursday a plan to partition the governor’s proposal for fiscal years 2024 and 2025 into two parts, separating operating costs from new spending proposals in a move meant to assuage Republican detractors and ensure smooth passage of a baseline budget by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

“Passing a targeted continuing services budget now will provide our families, schools, municipalities, and business community with the stability they deserve, building on the bipartisan work Democrats and Republicans continue to do,” Democratic Sen. Margaret Rotundo, chair of the AFA committee, said in an emailed statement. “It will also give the legislature the space and time to continue working in a collaborative and productive manner on any new initiatives and programs in the coming months.”

In Maine approved budgets take 90 days to enact and negotiations on Mills’ spending plan have teetered dangerously close to the April 1 deadline for timely adoption.

Mills’ original budget funded several pet projects of Democrats, including a $140 million influx for education programs statewide and a $237 million boost for mental health and substance use disorder services.

Republican leaders complained since its proposal that the bill lacked popular initiatives they’ve long championed, including a package of middle-class income tax cuts and the revival of a 20-year-old law for a budgetary ceiling that would cap new spending at $9.9 million.

The situation created “an emergency within the Constitution of Maine,” the committee said in a statement, leading to a flurry of last-minute sessions this week to redraft the bill that followed a closed-door meeting between Mills and a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday.

Democrats control both houses, but acting unilaterally risks sullying relations with the GOP, dimming the prospect of future bipartisan cooperation on new initiatives. Failure to agree on a spending proposal in Maine under Gov. Paul LePage’s administration in 2017 led to a messy three day government shutdown, the state’s first in 27 years.

The baseline budget proposal will “continue critical investments” and “builds upon the good, bipartisan work that has been accomplished and continues our history of responsible, fiscal management of the State’s resources,” said Democratic Representative Melanie Sachs in a statement.

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