Democrats in the Maine Legislature pushed through a nearly $10 billion, two-year state budget that prevents any government shutdown, but angered Republicans and virtually assures partisan rancor moving forward.
House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross admonished Republicans repeatedly not to impugn Democrats, who control both legislative chambers, during an emotional debate preceding the first budget vote Thursday evening. The Senate followed suit in approving the budget on party-line votes.
The strategy of adopting a basic budget on a simple majority vote early in the legislative session prevents Republicans from using the threat of a state government shutdown as an 11th-hour negotiating tactic.
Democrats said approval of a budget with no new programs preserves Republicans’ negotiating clout for additional spending proposals to be considered later in a supplemental budget. But that didn’t assuage the resentment of Republicans who were cut out of the process after negotiations broke down.
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Sen. Trey Stewart, the chamber’s Republican leader, said Democrats “simply aren’t interested in allowing the minority party to have any sort of meaningful seat at the negotiation table.”
“This is tyranny of the majority,” said GOP Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn, one of more than a dozen House Republicans to stand to criticize the budget proposal on a variety of grounds Thursday evening.
The Democratic maneuver required lawmakers to adjourn to allow the budget to go into effect 90 days later, on July 1, without a two-thirds majority approval. Then lawmakers will reconvene to deal with hundreds of pending bills, as well as a supplemental budget with any new spending initiatives.
The budget advanced by majority Democrats would continue to fund 55% of public education costs, universal free school meals and revenue sharing with municipalities, among other things. But it doesn’t include any new programs — not even programs supported by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
Republicans blasted Democrats for not considering their proposal to reduce income taxes on the state’s low- and moderate-income residents. Before the measure passed, the Legislature brushed aside GOP proposals to replace the word “Vacationland” with “Taxationland” on state license plates.
Democrats and their allies said the early vote ensures the government will continue operations and provides an opportunity for both parties to work on a supplemental budget to address extra proposals later.
Democratic Sen. Jill Duson of Portland said it makes sense to return to a two-part budget. “This approach ensures the state can prioritize ongoing commitments before taking on new initiatives,” she said.
The process mirrors 2021, when Democrats passed a majority budget over the objection of Republicans. A bipartisan revision was later adopted.
If lawmakers were to wait until later in the session to approve the budget, a two-thirds majority would be required for provisions to go into effect in time for the new fiscal year.
In 2017, House Republicans aligned with then-GOP Gov. Paul LePage torpedoed a compromise budget, forcing a partial shutdown of state government that lasted for several days. Frenzied negotiations led to new spending bill that cleared the two-thirds threshold.