Maine legislative budget panel to meet, but with no clear sign that feud has ended

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re looking forward to tomorrow to see whether lawmakers are any closer to compromise on a new spending package than they were in April when they adjourned with dozens of unfinished bills on the table.

The committee is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday after being absent from the State House for weeks. On its agenda are possible decisions on dozens of unfunded bills, a number of bills that were carried over from the regular session, 37 general obligation bond proposals and various other measures that have bipartisan support but lie in legislative limbo.

Some of the proposals face deadlines that are now weeks away. Some of the unfinished work needs to be done before the end of the current state fiscal year on June 30. That includes the maintenance of raises for direct care workers, which were included in last year’s state budget bill but not funded for the fiscal year that begins July 1, state support subsidies for county jails, and funding for public schools. Those bills will all need approval from two-thirds majorities to go into effect immediately.

There are also a number of other bills proposals in stasis — which if you’ve been paying attention should be well known by now. They include a $100 million transportation bond to send to a November referendum, a tax conformity package that at the very least would clear obstacles for filers, a technical fix to Maine’s public campaign financing system and a number of bills written to combat the opioid epidemic crisis.

The big question is whether Republicans and Democrats have been able to eliminate poison pills. One is $3.8 million in funding to cover start-up administrative costs for Medicaid, which Democrats have insisted be vote on as part of a spending package which includes a number of proposals both parties want. Another is slowing down scheduled increases in the minimum wage, which Republicans have wielded as an ultimatum in the past.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said today that the scheduled budget committee meeting is a “positive step” but was otherwise noncommittal in advance of negotiations he expects with other legislative leaders.

“We want to enter this with the good faith intention of finishing the work,” Fredette said, calling it “premature” to say whether the friction points that led to ending the session last month remain. He said a pending lawsuit seeking to compel the executive branch to put Medicaid expansion in motion “may force the issue whether we like it or not,” though perhaps not the funding, of which Fredette said “I don’t think the courts have the authority to tell the Legislature what to do.”

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said “Democrats have remained at the table,” which is why they voted several times to extend the regular session.

“I hope tomorrow’s meeting of the Appropriations Committee is a step in the right direction,” Gideon said.

Shadowy group blankets Maine’s 2nd District with a mailer

The Maine Outdoor Alliance is still advocating for a Democratic primary candidate while skirting disclosure rules by stopping short of an endorsement. Democratic 2nd Congressional District candidate Lucas St. Clair has benefited from advertising from the Maine Outdoor Alliance, a group that hasn’t disclosed who is funding it but is run by the best man at the candidate’s 2007 wedding. It began with TV ads earlier this month and it continued over the weekend with a mail piece that apparently blanketed homes in the 2nd District.

One of four pages in the magazine-style mailer is devoted to St. Clair, while the rest of it is ostensibly devoted to advocacy for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which is on land that St. Clair and his family gave to the federal government after a lobbying effort. It said St. Clair “brought people together in tough times to revive Maine’s rural economy.”

The ads continue to walk a thin but crucial line. The group is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which prohibits it from express political advocacy. The mailer and the TV ads don’t mention the campaign, making it fall short of an independent expenditure by the federal definition and allowing the group to not disclose donors and expenditures.

St. Clair’s campaign has said it isn’t involved in the ads and wants them to stop, while Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden has denounced them. They’re the front-runners in a three-way primary alongside bookseller Craig Olson for the nomination to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in November.

Why is a disqualified candidate putting up new signs?

A candidate who was booted from the June primary is putting up new signs even though votes for him won’t count. Over the past few days, new signs for Republican Max Linn have popped up across the state and the candidate tweeted a picture of one of them on Sunday. Another one is outside of Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office. They advertise his Senate campaign and say “Trump Strong” — a nod to the candidate’s aping of President Donald Trump’s style and message.

But there is one big problem with this: While Linn’s name will be on the June 12 ballot alongside state Sen. Eric Brakey for the Republican nomination to face independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, he was disqualified for the ballot after apparent fraud was discovered around his nominating petitions. It means that if people vote for him, their votes won’t count. A Linn spokesman didn’t respond to a Monday message on the signs.

U.S. labor secretary to visit Maine

His tour will focus on a job training program in Pittsfield. U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta will visit Cianbro Corp. in Pittsfield today at the invitation of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. Part of the tour will focus on the Cianbro Institute, which according to a news release from Collins has trained more than 1,000 for jobs at the company since August 2017. Earlier this year, when longtime Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue retired from the position, the company said that due to a heavy anticipated workload in 2018, including building a new WEX payment processing company in Portland, it plans to fill 300 new positions by the end of the year.

Reading list

  • The youngest candidate in the race to become Maine’s next governor is touting his experience. At 32, Republican Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls would be the youngest governor in Maine history should he win the Blaine House in November. But on the campaign trail — which includes weekly stops at conservative Christian churches — Mason points to his eight years in the Legislature, including four years as Maine Senate majority leader as proof that he is ready to govern the state. Mason pairs that experience with his deep conservative Christian roots to make the pitch to Republican primary voters that he’s best positioned to succeed Gov. Paul LePage and maintain Republican control of the executive branch.
  • A self-proclaimed outsider in the Democratic gubernatorial primary learned some hard lessons in Maine’s volatile “clean energy” marketplace. A “clean energy” company that candidate Adam Cote of Sanford helped launch went dormant a few years ago as many businesses in that sector had to play defense against the LePage administration’s rollback of incentives introduced by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and demands that “clean energy” companies compete on a level playing field with fossil fuel-based energy. Cote’s military service also shifted his focus away from the alternative energy storage business, but he’s using that experience to try to convince Maine Democrats that he’s best qualified to win a seven-person primary and become the party’s nominee in the race to succeed LePage.
  • Congress continues to plod along on a defense spending plan that would allow Bath Iron Works to bid to build new Navy destroyers. The Senate Armed Services Committee last week approved that chamber’s version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes $5.2 billion for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to be built at Bath Iron Works, as well as more than $640 million for future procurement of destroyers. Meanwhile, the Bath shipyard — which earlier this year gained a $45 million tax break from the state — continues work on the last of three Zumwalt-class destroyers and six Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
  • A watchdog group wants an independent audit of the contractor who provides medical services at Maine’s youth prison. The Board of Visitors for Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland asked for the audit in a report responding to complaints about conditions at the facility, where an 11-year-old inmate’s teeth were knocked out in an incident that has prompted a lawsuit alleging that guards were responsible.

Glorious, beautiful and one day late

Memorial Day weekend was cold, wet and clammy. I marched in a parade yesterday in which the Cub Scouts were shivering and I was wondering why I didn’t bring my fleece — and I’m not usually the guy who is complaining about being cold.

Then this morning dawns all glorious with promises of temps above 70, clear through to sundown. Most of us, stuck working, may never know it. To blunt the impact of that fact, let’s just spin a good tune this morning about the warm, lazy dog day afternoons that await. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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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.