Democrats in the Maine Legislature used their majority status to pass an $8.3 billion two-year state budget Tuesday.
Democrats hold majorities in the House and Senate and used that electoral strength to pass what they called a bare-bones budget that they say funds current state programs and services for the two years beginning July 1.
“This budget ensures that Maine people can continue to rely on rural hospitals, nursing homes, health care during a public health crisis. It supports our continued effort to combat the opioid crisis as well,” says Democratic state Rep. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee.
The plan does provide more funds for property tax relief, school funding and teacher retirement. House Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy says the measure provides the stability of a baseline budget for two years.
“After the year of uncertainty Mainers have lived through, we must ensure that people have essential services and give Maine people, business and municipalities the certainty about their financial future.”
Other Democrats made a case that passing a bare-bones budget now averts the possibility of a partisan government shutdown come the end of June. Republicans including Sen. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle reject that premise.
“The fact that we are here today discussing the specter of a potential government shutdown three months from now is pretty unfathomable,” he says. “It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
The debate has centered mostly around process, and not substance. The last budget passed by simple majority was by Democrats in 2005. Republicans including Waterford Rep. Sawin Millett, who serves as GOP lead on the Appropriations Committee, say process is a major issue.
“It sounds like, feels like you don’t want the input from the minority party or those unenrolled members,” he says.
The only Libertarian in the House, Rep. John Andrews of Paris, says the two major parties are more concerned with re-election than about doing what’s best for their constituents.
“Too often the two big parties are more interested in scoring points against the red team or the blue team to win the next election cycle. Oftentimes it more about demonstrations of raw power,” he says.
After passage of the majority budget, lawmakers were polled and voted to call themselves back into session next month. They also passed an order carrying over all the unfinished business to that session. That allows public hearings and committee meetings to continue as scheduled.
This story was originally published at 2:51 p.m. Tuesday, March 30, 2021.