There might be a Maine budget vote today. That doesn’t mean there’s a deal

Good morning from Augusta, where not much has changed. The Legislature continues to slog through a mountain of bills but there’s one that’s sucking up most of the attention: the biennial state budget bill.

At the Bangor Daily News we say it every other year: “This is the year we’re not going to write 100 stories about the budget.”

We haven’t eclipsed that mark yet but there’s still time. Perhaps more than we’d wish, based on a chasm that exists between the various sides in this debate. There are no indications of major breakthroughs and we’re starting to wonder if we’ll be at the State House for Independence Day — which would mean a state shutdown.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage, just back from a trade mission to Finland, put out a written statement Friday afternoon that drove a deeper wedge — if anyone was paying attention to to him re-stating the position he’s held for months, or arguably years.

“Democrats in the Legislature seem to think they can score political points with the special interests that control them by posturing and threatening to shut down state government unless Republicans agree to bloat government by spending hundreds of millions of dollars,” said LePage in a written statement. “It is irresponsible for Democrats to play chicken with our state’s finances and to insist on policies that will harm our economy.”

Aside from the merits or detriments of more education spending, which is at the center of the debate, blaming the Democrats is a well-worn tactic for the governor. His statement makes no mention of the elephant in the room — the fact that the 3 percent surtax for education, which is estimated to bring in more than $300 million over the next two years, resulted from a voter-approved referendum. He also doesn’t mention that chicken takes two to play and that if there’s a shutdown, there will be plenty of blame to go around.

House Republicans also continue to insist that any increase in school funding be linked to a push for major reforms in Maine’s public education system, although they have offered few details on what changes they seek.

The three versions of the budget bill that were voted out of the budget committee early this month have now been written and you can see the details of all three by clicking here.

With those documents ready for prime time, they could come up for votes at any time. The House of Representatives may vote on House Democrats’ version as early as Monday, said Mary-Erin Casale, a spokeswoman for Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. The Senate may take theirs up as early as Tuesday. Of course, this would likely be merely an exercise in affirming the fact that there is no deal that can garner the needed two-thirds support.

Last week, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, was holding out hope that a deal could be reached. If not, he was floating a contingency plan: The chambers would vote on their respective budgets, likely disagree and then leaders would appoint a conference committee made up of three people from each chamber to hash out a deal. For now, it looks like we’re heading this way.

When a deal is finally struck — that will happen, eventually, even if it is later this year after a congressional-style continuing resolution that LePage says could keep government open (although Attorney General Janet Mills disagrees) if the Legislature can’t hit the June 30 deadline for a budget — it will likely be announced by legislative leaders.

Some of the details will begin to emerge ahead of time as leaders inform their caucuses. Because no deal is likely to appease everyone, the day or days when these matters come to the floor could be a mess.

Expect a lot of amendments worth millions, tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars made from the floor and then voted on in some cases minutes later. Throwing around that level of public funding — and the programs it supports — on last-minute whims is what the democratic committee process is supposed to avoid but the time for that careful deliberation has come and gone. — Christopher Cousins with Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • By one vote, the House dealt a blow on Friday to a bill in the middle of Maine’s divide on abortion. The proposal from Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, that would allow people to sue civilly for the wrongful death of an unborn, viable fetus past 24 weeks of gestation, failed to pass the Democrat-led House in a 72-71 vote. While the bill contains an exemption for legal abortion providers, Planned Parenthood opposed it, saying it may be used later to undermine abortion rights by attaching rights to a fetus. Anti-abortion groups countered that it would bring Maine in line with other New England states, which allow wrongful death actions if a fetus is killed due to negligence. It faces further action in both chambers, but the bill, which is similar to past legislative efforts to create fetal rights, will fail again unless someone moves. — Michael Shepherd
  • Speaking of Planned Parenthood, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins doesn’t want its funding tied up in the battle over repealing the Affordable Care Act. Politico highlighted on Sunday how the pro-abortion rights Republican from Maine is at the center of a tactical dispute for her party in the Senate. Most Republicans want federal funding for Planned Parenthood repealed alongside the health care law, but Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski have been opposed to that tactic before and their votes would be crucial in passing any eventual repeal bill. But that may be moot anyway for Collins, since she’s been cool to her party’s overall repeal plan for a while. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

The House and Senate calendars are actually relatively thin at the start of this week, even though it promises to be a busy one because it’s scheduled to be the last full week of floor votes before the set adjournment date of June 21.

But the House isn’t going in until 3 p.m., with Casale, the spokeswoman for Gideon, saying the chamber is waiting for bills from the Senate and is tracking well to finish their business.

The Senate has 40 tabled matters and it’s unclear what they’re taking up, so it’s best to root through the calendars yourself if you’re watching something in particular. Triple-sessions — doing business in the morning, afternoon and evening — could come later this week.

Committees are also busy, with confirmation hearings today in Judiciary, Transportation and labor. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee is also in for a meeting. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Bad grammar has no effect on his appetite

We were all sun-drenched, full of ice cream but still possibly a bit grumpy after a long weekend in the sun. That’s how our 12-year-old was as we returned from a weekend away Sunday evening. We passed a sign in front of a fast food restaurant on Route 1 that read “$5 buck lunch.”

“Five dollar buck lunches?” he said. “What a ripoff! How stupid do they think people are?”

He is a growing boy. His doctor said “So you think he’s hungry now?” at a recent checkup. I’m sure he would have thought that price fair it if it were lunchtime. Here’s his soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

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.