There’s only one reasonable response to any in-depth discussion of the state budget:
Hey, wake up. I promise that’s not what this column is about. I mean, there may be some mention of budget-related developments, but that’s really just to set the stage for the sexy stuff.
Disclaimer: The author may be overselling the term “sexy.” While he acknowledges that everyone has their own ideas about what’s erotic, he admits the number of folks who harbor sensual notions about the politics of budgeting is smaller than the membership of the Maine chapter of Drag Queens for DeSantis.
Nevertheless, something steamy is happening in the back rooms at the State House as legislators and lobbyists try to sort out how to spend about $900 million in unallocated funds. Admittedly, it’s mostly happening with everyone’s clothes on (for which we can be thankful).
On the last day of March, majority Democrats rammed through a $9.8-billion “continuing services” budget over Republican objections. Through a series of parliamentary maneuvers, this partisan spending plan is now set to take effect when the state’s new fiscal year begins July 1.
This power play by the Dems took away what little leverage the GOP possessed in influencing state spending. A trio of cranky Republican legislators have filed a lawsuit claiming reconvening the Legislature after that move was unconstitutional, but their sketchy legal arguments are neither compelling nor sexy. Best to ignore them.
If the Legislature had waited until June to pass a budget, it would have required a two-thirds vote for it to take effect immediately, rather than 90 days after adjournment as is the case with most laws passed each session. By withholding the necessary support, Republicans could have extracted concessions in order to avoid a shutdown of state government.
Now, the two parties are squabbling over the bits and pieces that were left out of the budget bill. For Democrats, these items include $400 million for transportation projects, $121 million for health care, $55 million for higher education and $30 million for rental housing. Republicans have just one item on their agenda: a major income tax cut.
Negotiations on how much money goes where have been intense, with one prominent Dem lobbyist predicting the talks will result in “several” supplemental budget bills, some designed to attract enough GOP support to take effect immediately, while others will earn only Democratic votes and will have to serve a 90-day suspended sentence before becoming law.
Obviously, the tax cut is key to winning Republican support. The GOP originally wanted a $200-million reduction in rates for low- and middle-income taxpayers, but after getting rolled on the majority budget, they upped their demands to $400 million. Because with even less control over the process, why not go for broke.
The $400-million figure is a nonstarter for Dems, who fear that if the economy slides into recession, it will cause deficits in future budgets. But the state’s generally rosy employment figures and increased wages mean there could be room for a tax reduction more in the range of the GOP’s original $200-million request. Combining that with the Democrats’ priority of putting that $400 million to work on roads and bridges as soon as possible might be the key to getting a two-thirds vote.
If that happens, it’ll be a rare display of bipartisanship in a session where the relationship between the donkeys and pachyderms has deteriorated significantly since the Dems muscled through their budget in March. Talks over a tribal sovereignty bill have stalled, meaning there’s almost no chance of getting enough GOP votes to override a certain veto from Gov. Janet Mills. The possibility of reinstituting parole in Maine has virtually evaporated after tepid minority-party interest in that reform dissipated. There don’t seem to be many (any?) non-fiscal issues on which Republicans might be willing to lend even token support.
Does any of this petty posturing rise to the level of “sexy”? I doubt even the most puritanical of censors would find it so, assuming they could be diverted temporarily from their relentless campaign to purge the state’s school libraries of all content dealing with transgender people.
As for the less judgmental segment of the population:
Awaken my interest by emailing [email protected].