Lawmakers pass updated Mills budget, as Republicans seek leverage
Lawmakers in the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee got to work on Monday, unanimously approving a handful of costly changes to Gov. Janet Mills proposed a $ 8.77 billion two-year budget.
Mill’s office said she hoped to get two-thirds of the budget support vote from lawmakers, which would allow her to go into effect immediately with her signing. But that will require the support of Republicans, who continue to push for a tax credit or other benefit for the Mainers who worked during the pandemic.
“I don’t want to blow anything up,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake R-Turner said. “But I can tell you that the conversations are continuing and that they have been very cordial.”
The spending plan is a two-year, $ 8.3 billion state budget update that was passed in March by majority Democrats in the legislature. The update would increase spending over the two-year budget cycle to $ 8.77 billion. The proposal complements Mills’ plan for the use of $ 1.13 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding toward Maine.
In a short series of 12-0 votes on Monday, the committee approved several elements of the updated state budget plan, increasing state spending on schools by $ 187 million and agreeing to share $ 81 million. additional dollars in state tax revenue with some 500 Maine towns and cities.
The Schools Funding Proposal is the Legislature’s first effort to fully meet a 55% funding mandate passed by voters in 2004. The rise of municipalities will see the state share 4.5% of its revenue. sales tax in 2022 and 5% in 2023.
But behind Monday’s swift round of public votes is an ongoing and likely less relaxed round of private negotiations between minority Republican leaders and majority Democratic leaders over how Parliament should spend an unexpected windfall in tax revenue of nearly $ 20,000. ‘a billion dollars.
Senate Speaker Troy Jackson D-Allagash touted the committee’s decision to fund schools and municipalities.
“The reality is that Maine’s budget is a statement about what we value,” Jackson said in a prepared statement. “With the fundraising measures adopted by the AFA committee today, we are saying loud and clear that the Maine legislature supports our hard-working public schools, students, teachers and land taxpayers. Voters in Maine have told us unequivocally that the state must do its part to take care of our schools and help local government. It is high time we kept this promise.
Republicans have said they want at least some of that money to go back to taxpayers. While Republicans are in the minority and lack the voices to prevent a budget package from moving forward, they do have the voices that prevent the budget changes that Democrats and the governor want from happening quickly.
Republicans could also play a key role in ensuring that an additional $ 1 billion in federal funds earmarked for Maine in the American Rescue Plan Act swiftly roll out the door and into the hands of the agencies and organizations that use them to support l ‘economy. Mills presented his proposed budget changes in mid-May and outlined his plan for using ARPA funds from the state earlier this month.
With a two-thirds vote of the legislature, any bill passed can become law upon signature by the governor. Without a two-thirds vote, new laws must wait 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature to take effect. In March, Mills and the Democrats went it alone, passing the new $ 8.3 billion state budget by a simple majority, without the backing of Republicans. Republicans castigated the vote, calling it “sham” and “incomplete”.
The measure’s vote in March, over Republicans’ objections, meant Democrats had time, 90 days, to allow the bill to become law before the current two-year budget expired, thus eliminating the threat of ‘a state government shutdown.
Maine’s constitution requires a balanced state budget or the shutdown of state government.
Mills’ office confirmed on Monday that she still wanted a two-thirds vote on the pending budgets. But his office offered little more on the state of negotiations with the Republicans.
“The governor expects a two-thirds budget, the benefit of which – beyond bipartisan support – is that it will come into effect upon the governor’s signature,” wrote Lindsay Crete, Mills’ press secretary in an email. “The Administration remains in contact with members of the Legislative Assembly’s Appropriations Committee as they continue their work and provides them with information to assist them in their negotiations.”
Lawmakers negotiating the terms of any deal that could reach the two-thirds threshold haven’t said much about the details.
Republicans have previously said they would like some of the excess income to be used to provide an income tax credit of up to $ 10,000 for workers in Maine who have remained at work throughout. the COVID-19 pandemic. This figure equals the $ 10,000 income tax exemption, workers who collected unemployment during the pandemic received both their state and federal income tax for fiscal year 2020 .
Senate Minority Leader Timberlake said he was wary of saying too much for fear of damaging progress at the negotiating table. But he confirmed that Republicans were still looking for a tax credit or other benefit for taxpayers, especially those who have had to work on the front lines throughout the pandemic.
He acknowledged that Republicans’ influence hinged on their ability to secure the two-thirds vote that would allow any spending bill they pass in late June to quickly become law. Regarding federal state aid, Timberlake said, “I know she (Mills) wants to be able to transfer this money as soon as she can.”
The appropriations committee is expected to take additional votes on the spending plan this week, as lawmakers are also negotiating a package that both parties can vote for.
The budget bills are expected to be the culmination of a June 30 session of the Legislative Assembly, which has dealt with more than 1,700 bills – of which 645 have already been enacted by Mills – in 2021. He has only that about thirty bills to be voted on. , according to legislative staff.
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