AUGUSTA — Republicans and Democrats traded jabs Tuesday after budget negotiations broke down last week and Democrats advanced a continuing services budget to ensure state government doesn’t shut down this summer.

Senate Republicans used their weekly press briefing to criticize Democrats for their decision to pass a party-line budget without committing to income tax relief for low- and middle-income earners. They also took aim at Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, for mischaracterizing their proposal in a radio interview.

During an interview with WVOM in Bangor, Jackson said Republicans were looking to provide large income tax cuts for millionaires and only about $70 a year for low-wage earners.

“That’s all it does,” Jackson said. “That’s not the type of income tax relief I want to give to people of Maine. I’m not worried about the millionaires in this economy.”

At a news conference later that morning, Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said Jackson’s characterization was a “flat out lie.”

Nobody was talking about that except Troy,” he said. 


The back-and-forth illustrates how tensions have risen during budget negotiations and may foreshadow a tumultuous close to the first session of the 131st Legislature, especially in the Senate.

Lawmakers are expected to vote Thursday on a continuing services budget, which would fund programs already created by lawmakers and prevent a government shutdown in July if the parties fail to reach a compromise. The budget that majority Democrats plan to pass this week would continue to fund 55% of public education costs, universal free school meals, revenue sharing with municipalities and childcare investments.

The $9.8 million spending plan does not include any new initiatives included in Gov. Janet Mills’ $10.3 billion budget proposal. That means lawmakers would still have to decide in the coming months what to do with at least $400 million in projected revenue over the next two years.

Republicans tried to get Democrats to commit to providing $200 million in tax relief to low- and middle-income Mainers, but Democrats did not want to include any new initiatives in the first budget bill.

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, said Tuesday that his party’s proposal was modeled after a bill sponsored by Rep. Jack Ducharme, R-Madison, that would lower the tax rate from 5.8% to 4.5% for people earning less than $23,000.

“It’s very straightforward,” Bennett said. “It’s modest in our view.”


Bennett noted that for the Democrats’ budget to take effect by July 1, they will need to pass the budget Thursday and then formally adjourn the Legislature because it will take 90 days after adjournment for the initial budget to take effect. He expects the Legislature will then immediately reconvene in a special session to work on the second budget bill and complete work on a raft of other measures being vetted by committees.

“Over that we are going to shut down the Legislature and we are going to go into this extra-Constitutional move that is totally unnecessary,” he said.

Any budget approved after April 1 would need two-thirds support in both the House and Senate to take effect immediately after the Legislature adjourns, and that would require the support of at least some Republicans. Democrats could still use their simple majorities to pass a second budget bill without Republican support, but the funding would not become available until three months after the special session ends.

Democratic leaders on the budget committee said they are willing to discuss tax relief and reform later in the session, after public hearings have been held on all of the tax proposals.

Rep. Melanie Sachs, D-Freeport, said Democrats didn’t use their majority to stack the first budget bill with their priorities and noted that it would leave spending below a state cap enacted 20 years ago.

 “This is truly about keeping the lights on,” Sachs said. “When last minute proposals come in that don’t fit a Part One budget they of course will not be something that is seriously considered. We’re not adding anything and we are hoping nobody else is adding anything.”

Sen. Peggy Rotondo, D-Lewiston, said Democrats are open to discussions about tax changes but it was too early to say what that might look like.

While Stewart downplayed the risk of Republicans forcing a government shutdown as they did in 2017, Rotundo said it is important to ensure that could not happen, thereby giving stability to state government and municipalities that rely on state revenue to fund essential services such as education.

“It’s a responsible way to govern,” Rotundo said.

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