House members sit at socially-distanced desks spread across the main auditorium during Tuesday’s legislative session at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Mainers can’t look forward to the usual drama from the State House this spring. Legislative leaders will not be disappearing behind closed doors in June to hammer out a last-minute budget deal and head off a government shutdown.

Instead, the new $8.3 billion budget passed with little debate and only Democratic votes Tuesday.

It will go into effect in 90 days after the Legislature’s pro forma adjournment, which guarantees that there won’t be a shutdown at midnight June 30. The speedy budget also guarantees that cities, towns and school districts will know what to expect from the state when they work on their budgets this spring.

It would be kind of a boring story, if not for the Republican complaints that they have been shut out of the process. A budget can’t pass after April 1 without two-thirds support in both houses of the Legislature, which gives outsize power to minority parties, a power that the Republicans have shown they are quite willing to use.

Republicans say they were “silenced” in this process, and they accuse the Democrats of wrecking bipartisan comity by pushing through a “majority budget.” But that bipartisan spirit has not always been on display.

In August 2019, Republicans used their clout to block bond issues from going to the public for approval, denying voters the chance to be heard on investment in broadband, worker training and land conservation. Those were all popular initiatives that were “silenced” by a minority of legislators.

And just last month, Republicans used all of their leverage to slow the passage of a supplemental budget for the current year, squeezing out state tax breaks for profitable companies that had also received federal pandemic aid through the Paycheck Protection Program. If Democrats were anticipating another minoritarian shakedown on the two-year budget, they had good reason.

Republicans point out that this is the third majority budget in recent history, and all of them have been passed by Democrats.

That’s true, but they are less likely to acknowledge that in 2012, when Republicans had control of both the Legislature and the Blaine House, they passed a supplemental budget on a partisan, majority vote that dropped 32,000 people from MaineCare.

The budget passed Tuesday was not nearly as controversial. It was essentially a continuation of the current budget, which received bipartisan approval two years ago.

And the Legislature’s work is far from done. There are still many bills that have been introduced and worked on by committees but have not received votes in the House and Senate.

When they come back into session, Republicans and Democrats will have a role in determining how to spend the $1 billion the state is expecting to receive from the federal American Rescue Plan.

You can’t have bipartisanship without two parties that trust each other. There is clearly work to be done in Augusta to rebuild trust across parties, but in its absence, a budget that keeps the government running smoothly is good for Maine.


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