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Democrats push through $8.3B budget without GOP support

March 31, 2021 GMT

The Democratic-controlled Maine Legislature approved an $8.3 billion budget without Republican support on Tuesday, as Democratic leaders employed a parliamentary tactic to ensure it goes into effect.

The budget normally needs a two-thirds majority vote to go into effect immediately. Since the budget passed with a simple majority, Democratic leaders adjourned Tuesday evening to ensure the bill will become law before the fiscal year begins. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said she intends to sign the budget on Wednesday, her spokesperson said.

House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, decried Democrats for adopting the budget without an attempt to seek bipartisan consensus and vowed that Republicans wouldn’t be “bullied.”

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“With this forced vote on an incomplete majority budget, we are ending bipartisanship in this chamber,” she said.

The final votes at the Augusta Civic Center, where the session was held because of the pandemic, were 77-67 in the House and 20-14 in the Senate, mirroring earlier party-line votes.

Mills said the budget was deserving of bipartisan support but insisted it’s not the final word. She said there will be a Part II in the form of a supplemental budget that takes into account revised revenue projections and unallocated federal funding, and she said she hoped future work would proceed in a bipartisan manner.

“This will not be the end of budget discussions for this biennium. There is much more work to be done,” she said.

While the tactics on Tuesday upended bipartisan traditions, Democrats put the blame on Republicans who’d insisted on deeper business tax cuts during difficult negotiations on a supplemental budget through June 30.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said Democrats wouldn’t let Republicans obstruct the budget, which he said provides stability for Maine people “by ensuring that the rug won’t be pulled out from them” after enduring a painful year during the pandemic.

“While I’m truly disappointed that my Republican colleagues have decided to turn their backs on a budget that had previously earned bipartisan support, we won’t let politics and obstruction get in the way of doing our jobs,” he said in a statement.

Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake said the Democratic tactic silenced more than a half-million Mainers represented by GOP lawmakers and caused “great harm” to the legislative process.

In the Senate, Democrat Bill Diamond and Republican Rick Bennett stood in opposition to the Democratic power play. Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Lincoln, joined Diamond in voting against the budget on the enactment vote.

Bennett said he was in his first term years ago when Democrats adopted a budget without Republicans, and called it a “failure of leadership.” Diamond said it was too early to throw in the towel on bipartisan consensus.

Democratic leaders said their “back-to-basics” proposal was based on the previous budget that won bipartisan support in 2019.

It has been more than a decade since a two-year budget passed by a simple majority in the Maine Legislature. Republicans said it had happened only three times in the last 70 years.

Despite the acrimony, a two-thirds majority of the Legislature voted Thursday evening to reconvene on April 28, eliminating the necessity of the governor intervening to call them back, officials said. In the meantime, committees work will continue under a joint resolution.

The Legislature met Tuesday at Augusta Civic Center instead of the Maine State House to facilitate social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Sharp reported from Portland, Maine.