AUGUSTA — Lawmakers from both parties touted a new level of civility in Maine government as they voted to approve a 2-year state spending plan that falls just short of $8 billion.

While Republicans still voiced reservations about the budget, they put up the votes needed to get the bill passed with two-thirds support. But they warned that the state might not have enough in reserves to weather a potential economic downturn.

Democrats countered that the budget was on solid ground financially and would provide Maine residents with the stable, effective government they seemed to be asking for when they elected Democratic majorities and a Democratic governor in 2018.

The budget bill easily gained approval in time to avoid a state government shutdown at the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30, and includes several major initiatives offered by Gov. Janet Mills in the proposal she sent to lawmakers in February.

“This is a responsible budget, this is a sustainable budget,” Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, told his colleagues just before the Senate voted 25-9 in support of  the measure about 9:3o p.m.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chairman of the budget-writing committee, said the budget set Maine on a new pathway for success and prosperity for the next two years and beyond.


“A pathway that will lead to a better education for our students, improved health care for all Mainers, a better trained workforce, a cleaner environment, a greater opportunity for our older neighbors to remain independently in their homes and support for much-needed economic development including broadband investment in our rural communities,” Gattine said.

Appropriations Committee co-chair Sen. Cathy Breen, a Falmouth Democrat who helped lead the months-long review and negotiation process, said the budget is a chance to show “what bipartisan government really looks like” to Mainers tired of political bickering.

In addition to providing property tax relief and more education funding, the budget puts more money into nursing homes, child protection workers and domestic violence services while paying off federal debts incurred when Riverview Psychiatric Center lost its federal certification. And Breen said the committee accomplished those bipartisan goals without raising taxes.

“There are many in my caucus who wanted to raise revenues,” Breen said on the Senate floor at about 9:30 p.m. before the chamber’s 25-9 vote. “I said from the beginning that wasn’t going to happen. We had plenty to work with and we needed to work with what we had.”

Earlier this week, the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee approved the $7.98 billion spending plan,  which provides more funding for schools and property tax relief. The budget also earmarks $125 million to MaineCare expansion, begins the process of setting a minimum statewide teacher salary of $40,000 and adds more than 60 child protection workers.

The budget contains no tax increases or tax cuts, consistent with Mills’ original proposal. It does, however, increase the amount of tax revenues returned to municipalities as “revenue sharing,” as well as boosting the Homestead Exemption from $20,000 to $25,000 with the aim of providing property tax relief to state taxpayers.


Republicans voiced dissatisfaction with the budget’s bottom line and concerns that the state was not socking enough away to weather a possible economic downturn and resulting reductions in tax revenues.

“There are some indications that show we will see some form of economic downturn during the life of this budget and we should be better prepared for this,” said Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro.

“Both sides can go out and beat their chests about property tax (relief) and increased funding to education,” said Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, the lead Senate Republican on the committee.

Republicans also touted their impact on the plan in keeping the bottom line under $8 billion.

The budget includes many of the priorities outlined by Mills, although lawmakers changed allocation amounts and made numerous other changes over the past five months.

The Maine Constitution requires that a balanced budget be passed for state government to remain open. Key Republican leaders on the committee, including Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a former state finance commissioner, supported the compromise budget bill.


In a speech before the House voted 104-38 to approve the measure, Millett praised the bipartisan work of the budget committee and he and others noted that it marked the return of civility to the Legislature following eight often contentious years under Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Libby said budget committee members took more than 1,154 votes on budget lines and 99 percent of those votes were unanimous.

“Given the tumult and the difficulty of doing even the most basic of government functions over the last eight years, that is an impressive accomplishment,” Libby said.

This is the first budget under the Mills administration. While there have been partisan differences over issues such as MaineCare coverage of abortion and the amount in the state’s “rainy day” fund, this budget-drafting process did not feature the level of partisan divisiveness that led to a brief government shutdown two years ago during the LePage administration.

The bill will next head to the desk of Mills, who has signaled she will sign it into law.


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