|March 26, 2021
Maine Legislative Calendar In Flux
Things were virtually humming along smoothly in the Maine Legislature until this week. Committee hearings were taking place with countless public policy discussions throughout numerous virtual meetings. That was the case until it was announced that the full Legislature would return virtually next week, possibly vote out a ‘baseline’ majority biennial state budget, and adjourn Sine Die.
What is a baseline budget?
A baseline budget uses current spending levels as the “baseline” to prepare the budget of the upcoming fiscal year(s).
Why is this important?
Balancing the state budget, as required by the Maine Constitution is a challenge, particularly during difficult economic times. In recent years, Democratic and Republicans legislators have been unable to agree on a bipartisan budget before April 1st.
Why is April 1st important?
Maine laws do not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. The state fiscal year commences on July 1 each year. If no budget passes AND the Legislature doesn't then adjourn before April 1st, the budget bill would require a two-thirds vote to qualify as “emergency legislation.” Emergency legislation becomes effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature. In recent years, the Legislature has come dangerously close to the June 30th end of the fiscal year before passing a budget. In one recent case, the was a temporary state government shutdown.
Democrats have a 22-13 majority in the Senate and hold 80 seats in the 151-seat House. In order to pass a broadly supported bipartisan two-year state budget by April 1st, at least 2 Senate Republicans would have to vote in favor while more than 20 Republicans, Independents, or Unaffiliated House members would have to approve. Such budget bipartisanship has been a rarity for a number of years in the Maine Legislature. According the the Portland Press Herald, the last non-partisan majority budget was passed in 2005.
Republicans are not happy and that could have political consequences.
Pushing through a budget without Republican support could have consequences later if they respond by withholding their support for future bond issues to be placed on the ballot for Maine voters. Bond issues require a two-thirds vote in both the state House and state Senate. Bond proposals that could be important to the Maine Medical Association’s Legislative Committee and Board of Directors include major investments in broadband expansion, climate change, and workforce development.
What’s Governor Mills saying?
Governor Mills penned a letter to state legislative leaders this week encouraging a bipartisan budget agreement. She has not responded to questions on whether she would support a majority budget or whether she would immediately call the Legislature back to special session were they to adjourn after enacting a majority two-year budget in April.
Stay tuned. The Maine House of Representatives and Maine Senate are now respectively scheduled to meet Tuesday, March 30. Coming into this week there were no plans to meet before mid-April.
Please contact MMA Director of Communications and Government Affairs, Dan Morin at email@example.com or by phone at 207-480-4199 for more information on MMA advocacy efforts, public hearing schedules, or bills and public policy issues of interest to you or your organization.
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