Maine’s budget panel seems poised to walk away without accord

When it comes to announcements about moving the state budget bill forward, caution is advisable. However, it’s reasonable to assume that the Appropriations Committee might finish its work on the $6.8 billion document based on announcements that they will do just that.

The word came Thursday evening from the committee analyst that the remaining lines of the budget will be voted on today. That doesn’t mean a deal is in the offing in what some have described as the most difficult budget negotiations in years.

“At this time, we do not expect a unanimous report from the committee,” said Mario Moretto, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, this morning. “They’re going to continue to try to come up with a consensus but realistically, we expect that multiple reports will come forward.”

That means one of a number of things. The budget could go to the full Legislature with a split report, which means Republicans and Democrats aren’t any closer to agreement than they were before. Voting on a document like that would likely lead to a failure to reach the two-thirds approval threshold. In that scenario, we could expect individual lawmakers to try to end the impasse through attempts at amendments on the House and Senate floor, which is a messy, inefficient and arguably risky way to put together such a huge spending package.

Another scenario is that legislative leaders intend to continue negotiations and that whatever is voted out of the committee today is just a placeholder until a deal is struck. That would be a repeat of what happened two years ago, which caused protests around the secretive and exclusive nature of the negotiations — but which in the end produced a budget deal without a government shutdown.

Whatever happens, voting out the budget today allows the important work that you rarely hear about — the actual writing of the budget bill, which takes days and days — to begin.

We expect a lot of questions about the days ahead to be answered today. The Appropriations Committee is scheduled to begin voting at 10 a.m. You can listen in by clicking here but most of it won’t make much sense unless you have the budget documents to follow along with. Those are located here and the documents you’re looking for are under “Unvoted Initiatives.” There’s a lot left to decide on and we expect today’s deliberations to take several hours.

We’ll keep you posted but as we’ve not-so-subtly tried to make clear here, this is not the triumphant end of this year’s budget banter, not by a longshot. Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

Republican Rick Bennett isn’t running for governor (yet). But he wants your feedback. The former state party chairman and Maine Senate president from Oxford — among the denizens considering a run for governor in 2018 — has a website up soliciting feedback from Mainers about whether he should make a Blaine House run. He has been traveling the state in recent months, hitting party events, making business stops in Aroostook County and touring a University of Maine engineering facility. Bennett said Thursday that he’s doing all of this in “a methodical way” and talking to “people who are doing good work in Maine and trying to understand what people are looking for in the next governor.” He said he’d likely make a final decision on running in the early summer, a season that my calendar tells me is three weeks away. — Michael Shepherd

Senate approves bill to ban lying to the Legislature, but the House hasn’t. A bill that would make providing false testimony to legislative committees illegal passed with unanimous consent through the Senate on Thursday but could still be going nowhere following a 72-71 vote against it May 17 by mostly Democrats in the House. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, originally proposed making false testimony or omitting a material fact a Class E crime and elevating the charge to a Class D crime if the person was under oath at the time. The version of the bill approved Wednesday removed a provision that would allow committee members to place people under oath. The bill was originally scheduled for a roll call in the Senate but Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, canceled that request and the bill was approved unanimously under the hammer. Here’s your soundtrack. Christopher Cousins

A bill to require state officials to testify to the Legislature is en route to LePage killing it. LD 152 seeks to require commissioners or directors of state agencies to testify to legislative committees, study commissions or work groups formed by the Legislature. Sponsored by Rep. Roland Martin, D-Sinclair, the bill originated largely because of LePage’s on-again, off-again refusal to allow his Cabinet members to appear before legislative committees, though more recently he has been granting permission if committee chairs make their requests in writing directly to him. The bill passed 23-12 in the Senate and 88-56 in the House, neither of which is enough to override an all-but-certain veto from LePage. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are out until Monday and as noted above, there will be considerable attention on the budget committee today. However, the crowds could be largest on the fourth floor of the State House, in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Beginning at 9 a.m., that committee is taking testimony on two bills related to the ranked-choice voting law that Maine voters approved last year by referendum.

As you’ve undoubtedly read by now if you’re interested in that issue, one of the bills proposes an amendment to the Maine Constitution that would put it in line with the enacted law. That seems necessary for the law to move forward following a unanimous advisory opinion by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court last month that found the law unconstitutional.

The other bill would repeal the ranked-choice voting law altogether. You can listen to that hearing by clicking here, but make sure you’ve got a comfortable chair and a bag lunch. It will likely take a while.

The only other committees working under the dome today are the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, which is moving toward an omnibus bill on the implementation of Maine’s recreational marijuana law, and the Taxation Committee, which is taking testimony on a bill involving universal child care.Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Doughnuts from heaven

Today is National Doughnut Day. Before you dash off to determine which bakeries and fast-food fried fat emporia are giving away free sinkers, take a moment to contemplate the history of this most noble treat — although in our family, it was considered a meal, if not one of the basic food groups.

Writing in Smithsonian Magazine, David A. Taylor notes that the origin is disputed, with credit ranging from Dutch immigrants to Russian exiles to Clark Gable. Apparently, the Dutch colonists who settled Manhattan called them olykoeks, which translates to”oily cakes.” Krispy Kreme clearly figured out a better marketing scheme.

When my daughters were younger, they had a different take on how humans first encountered doughnuts. Being a somewhat sacrilegious parent prone to creating myths around food — I once told my kids that Girl Scout cookies had alcohol in them, which was why only adults could gorge on them — I informed my naive, young offspring that the word “manna” meant “doughnut” in ancient Hebrew. Hence, God rained doughnuts down upon the Israelites during their time of need in the desert. While one daughter bought that explanation hook, line and — ahem — sinker, the other was more skeptical. She later went on to earn an advanced degree from Harvard Divinity School, in part, I believe, to debunk the myths I foisted upon her during her formative years. Here’s her soundtrack. — Robert Long

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.