Gov. Janet Mills is urging fellow Democrats to reconsider budget recommendations endorsed at the end of a legislative committee meeting that stretched into the early-morning hours Saturday.

Democrats on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted to recommend a supplemental budget that, among other things, would divert $14 million previously earmarked for transportation projects to the general fund, while also rolling back tax relief for pensioners.

A spokesperson for Mills said Monday that the governor has “significant concerns” because lawmakers decided to spend $107 million she wanted to set aside for future cost increases to state government and because they proposed rolling back to tax relief for pensioners, reducing aid to dairy farms, and “raiding” the state’s highway fund.

“She urges the Legislature to reconsider these ill-advised changes, to avoid creating new programs that will require ongoing funding, and to advance a fiscally responsible budget that is sustainable in the long term,” spokesperson Ben Goodman said in a written statement.

The majority of the Appropriations Committee voted for the package early Saturday morning after a lengthy session, overriding objections from Republican members.

It wasn’t clear exactly how much new spending is included in the committee’s proposal. Details were not immediately available and the Legislature was not in session Monday because of the solar eclipse.


Mills presented two budget proposals this session in response to predictions from nonpartisan revenue forecasters that the state will take in $373 million more tax revenue this year and next than originally anticipated. Her latest spending plan would increase the state budget to $10.41 billion, up from the current $10.3 billion.

The Legislature’s budget committee was scheduled to begin meeting at 4 p.m. on Friday after a storm-related delay, but didn’t begin until nearly midnight. Lawmakers did not finish voting on the budget proposal until nearly 3 a.m. Saturday.

The committee’s highway fund and pension changes effectively reversed bipartisan agreements that were included in the biennial budget last year, prompting strong protests from Republicans.

The budget amendment would reverse a key Republican budget win last session – stabilizing the state’s highway fund by devoting ongoing revenue from the sales of vehicles and automotive parts, rather than relying on a shrinking pool of fuel taxes.

Rep. Jack Ducharme, R-Madison, said it was “unconscionable” for Democrats to drop a significant change at the last minute, in the dark of night, without public notice or input from the Maine Department of Transportation or the Transportation Committee.

“This is why people don’t trust state government,” Ducharme said, shortly before 1:30 a.m. “Look outside. It’s dark. Has anybody ever heard someone comment about, ‘Oh, government does things in the dark of night?’ … This has no business being around this horseshoe tonight. None whatsoever.”


The move also drew criticism from the MDOT on Monday, which said it will make it more difficult to secure federal funding and contractors for jobs.

MDOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note said in a prepared statement Monday that the move caught him by surprise, and predicted it will cost the highway fund nearly $60 million next year.

“I was surprised and disheartened that the Appropriations Committee majority, without notice, decided to assume control of the Highway Fund and divert nearly $60 million away from transportation resources starting next year,” Van Note said.

“MaineDOT Work Plans require long-term, predictable funding, and if these proposed changes become law, we will have to cut work from our current Work Plan. Such a drastic change will impact everything we do, including highway and bridge projects, transit funding, and initiatives aimed at promoting resiliency and clean energy. Importantly, this will hobble our ability to apply for federal grants, which means the impact is more than the state funding cuts.”

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee develops and recommends a state budget, with the exception of the highway fund. It officially closed its budget negotiations shortly before 3 a.m. Saturday morning. While full details of the committee’s final budget recommendation were not available Monday, the majority also voted to roll back tax relief on private pensions.

Last year, lawmakers supported increasing the amount of pension income that’s exempt from state income taxes from $30,000 to $35,000, followed by incremental increases to bring it to $48,000. Committee Democrats, however, voted to increase it to $35,000 and then peg future increases to inflation, a move they said would generate more revenue for the state.


Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, said the initial pension deal was a key reason he and other Republicans supported the biennial budget last year.

“This is an indication of people not bargaining in good faith,” Bennett said of Democrats. “We negotiated this provision in this committee and it was one of the reasons I voted for that budget. And now here, a few months later, this comes before us, and it is a betrayal of that deal. And it just tells me that people who I thought we were working with here to try to get to a two-thirds vote then are not worth working with us any longer.”

Spokespeople for House Democrats did not respond to questions Monday seeking details about the recommended budget, which, once drafted into its final form, will head to the House and Senate floors for debate in the coming days. The Legislature is scheduled to wrap up its work and adjourn April 17, although lawmakers could extend the session.

A spokesperson for Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, referred a reporter to the meeting video for additional information.

Spokesperson Christine Kirby said Senate Democrats would be looking to address concerns relating to several proposals, including inadequate support for dairy farmers, funding for York Hospital, ongoing funding for Maine veterans’ homes, support for teachers, and language to close the state workforce gap.

“I think there are concerns amongst our caucus with the current version of the supplemental budget that we are hoping to address,” Kirby said.


But it was proposed changes to the highway fund that drew the most passionate debate Saturday morning.

At around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, Democrats proposed taking over the highway budget from the Transportation Committee and reallocating revenue to the general fund, where it could be used for other programs.

That angered Republicans, who last year secured a rare budget win when they convinced Democrats and Gov. Janet Mills to stabilize highway funding by devoting 40% of  vehicle sales and use taxes. That shifted an overreliance on fuel tax revenue, which is dropping, and opened up a revenue stream that included electric vehicles, which use roads but don’t pay fuel taxes.

The proposal was expected to bring in $100 million a year, but has exceeded those expectations.

Rep. Melanie Sachs, D-Freeport, proposed an amendment to take over that budget and reallocate some of that funding, pointing to projected revenues of $107 million this year and $115 million next year.

Sachs said the final spending level in future budgets should be determined within the full context of the budget. “In these times, with these varying and now quite large transfers into the highway fund from the general fund, it feels prudent,” Sachs said.


Rep. Dan Ankles, D-Brunswick, said his prior experience on the Transportation Committee informed his support for the amendment, saying that the committee routinely approves the MDOTs requests.

Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said Monday that the amendment caught him off-guard because it contradicted what he had heard from leadership.

“We were told that there wouldn’t be any significant policy changes in the supplemental budget,” Chipman said. “And this is a significant structural change.”

Chipman said he and other committee members are open to conversations about the highway fund budget and improving collaboration, including holding joint hearings, but opposed the last-minute move by the Appropriations Committee to take over the entire budget process.

“I think there’s a better solution,” he said.

The Associated General Contractors of Maine blasted the highway funding move in a news release titled, “Maine residents left in the dark on the highway budget.” They described it as “a shocking move, while Maine residents were recovering from a blizzard and mass statewide power outages.”

“The ever-increasing lack of transparency reached a pinnacle when elected officials voted to make a major change to the highway budget in the middle of the night,” AGC Maine’s Executive Director Kelly Flagg said in a written statement. “Sadly, these actions fully embrace Washington DC style politics.”

In other late-night budget moves, Democrats voted to establish an $18 million rent relief pilot program to prevent student homelessness; provide three years of funding at $2.5 million a year for emergency shelters; and put $30 million and $15 million, respectively, in the MaineCare and education stabilization accounts.

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