The Maine Legislature may have adjourned sine die – “without day” – early this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean its work is truly done. When they adjourned earlier this month, it was after a quick day of work to pass emergency legislation giving Gov. Mills the power and money to respond quickly to the pandemic. That left them in a far better state than Congress, which was still engaging in a bitter partisan fight over an economic aid package even as their own members were being diagnosed with the virus and/or self-quarantining.

Just because they left town, though, doesn’t mean the Legislature properly finished its work. They will almost certainly have to return for a costly special session later this year, as they left hundreds of bills (both newly introduced and held over from last session) unaddressed in the rush to adjourn. It’s unclear now when that special session might happen, but it will almost certainly be necessary – and whenever it happens, it’ll be much closer to the election than the regular adjournment date would have been.

For all the lack of controversy on the unusual last day of this abbreviated regular session, any future special session is likely to be the opposite. Incumbents in both parties will get pulled away from not only the campaign trail, but their day jobs, to return to Augusta to address a whole host of legislation that may well seem trivial by then. The legislation left in limbo probably isn’t the only issue we’ll be dealing with, however: After the economic downturn caused by the pandemic and the expense of fighting it, we may well need a supplemental budget.

If a supplemental budget is required again later this year, it won’t be because Maine has a surplus that Democrats are eager to blow through on their way toward expanding government. Instead, it will be necessary thanks to a deficit, which will be a new experience for much of the Legislature. Maine hasn’t had to deal with a true budget deficit for over a decade, since Paul LePage first took office as governor just as the country was recovering from the Great Recession. LePage was able to quickly address that shortfall and turn the state around, not only leading to budget surpluses rather than deficits but also replenishing the state’s so-called “rainy day fund.” That meant that when Janet Mills took office two years ago, she was the beneficiary of LePage’s eight years of fiscal responsibility.

Sadly, Mills didn’t continue the state down that road. While she manage to refrain from completely blowing through the rainy day fund or raising taxes in her first biennial budget, she didn’t spend funds as judiciously as her predecessor. Instead, she and the Democrats in the Legislature expanded state government by almost a billion dollars, going on a spending spree to fund the wish list they’d been trying to foist off on the state for years.

They may not have been part of the initial budget proposal, but Augusta Democrats have stepped forward with a whole host of proposals for new or increased taxes. With low unemployment, budget surpluses and a strong economy, tax increases made no fiscal sense whatsoever, but Democrats proposed them nevertheless. Several of these proposals were soundly defeated on a bipartisan basis, like ideas to create a local option sales tax, raise the estate tax and raise the corporate income tax. Most Democrats quickly realized that proposals like these were political suicide for anyone outside of a safe district, and they quietly went nowhere.


That was with the economy doing well, though. If there’s a severe economic downturn, Maine Democrats will likely return to the idea of tax increases to make up for a future shortfall. We can expect to see proposals to raise the taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations, and various ideas to nickel-and-dime ordinary Mainers.

Republicans ought to continue to resist any attempt to raise taxes, whether they’re proposed in a supplemental budget or considered as separate bills. Just as we don’t need to raise taxes when the economy is doing well, we don’t need to raise them when it’s doing poorly – instead, we can cut spending. Although they may seem like a sensible solution to a fiscal crisis, in fact tax hikes are a way for reckless politicians to avoid tougher decisions. Raising taxes will hinder an economic turnaround after this crisis, and should be avoided if we really want to quickly bounce back.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: jimfossel

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