AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate is scheduled to convene in two weeks to consider the latest round of gubernatorial nominations and that could dovetail with a special session of the full Legislature, if Gov. John Baldacci and House and Senate leaders can strike a bargain soon.

Partisan tensions that flared earlier this year, however, do not appear to have noticeably eased.

On and off talks among ranking lawmakers and the governor are slated to resume in person Thursday.

Thursday’s meeting is expected to involve the top three State House Democrats – Baldacci, Senate President Beverly Daggett, House Speaker Patrick Colwell – and the Legislature’s two Republican leaders, Sen. Paul Davis and Rep. Joe Bruno.

New efforts to pass further legislation revamping state tax policy are no longer viewed as a likely part of a special session agenda. Instead, the most likely focus would be options for new state borrowing.

Ever since lawmakers adjourned last spring, there have been discussions of whether to bring them back to the capital during what is normally an offseason to take up matters on which they previously failed to agree.

Preoccupations with a school funding initiative that was approved by voters in June and with a tax cap proposal slated for referendum in November – as well as ordinary election year jockeying and the logistical challenges of assembling political leaders during vacation months – have left the question of holding a potentially contentious late summer special session hanging.

In late June, Baldacci outlined a $55 million state borrowing proposal that he said would bolster Maine’s transportation and environmental protection networks and extend the Land for Maine’s Future conservation program.

House and Senate majorities of two-thirds are needed to put borrowing proposals before state voters. Majority Democrats, even if united, would need some support from Republicans, many of whom have expressed reservations about the need for or amount of contemplated new bonding, to add bond issues on November ballots.

Daggett notified senators Tuesday that a confirmation session had been set for Aug. 25 at 11 a.m. Currently, there are close to 20 nominations pending.

Later on Tuesday, Colwell circulated a letter he wrote to Baldacci, proposing ground rules for leadership talks.”In the spirit of compromise and for the benefit of the people of Maine, House Democrats are willing to support the $40 million bond package that you have most recently proposed,” Colwell, D-Gardiner, wrote to the governor.

“Included in this latest offer is $20 million for Land for Maine’s Future,’ $11 million for the environment and the economy and $9 million for transportation. This proposal reflects the highest limit that Republican leadership has indicated as acceptable to Republicans,” Colwell wrote.

“In order to facilitate the drafting of a bond package that meets the approval of all the caucuses, I respectfully urge you to request the other three caucuses to prepare bond packages that are acceptable to them. These bond proposals should be prepared prior to the meeting between you and legislative leadership regarding a special session on bonds,” Colwell added.

Three days ago in an op-ed piece published in the Maine Sunday Telegram, Bruno took Democratic leaders to task for merely delaying, rather than resolving, structural problems in state finances.

“The problem exists no matter how many times the governor, the Senate president and the speaker claim that a solution was achieved. … Public service begins with giving the people the facts straight, without self-serving political spin,” Bruno, R-Raymond, wrote.

“It is the simplest of ideals, but in this day of win-by-all-means politics, it has apparently been lost upon the current Democratic leadership in Augusta.”

Colwell, in his Tuesday letter to Baldacci, cast his proposed ground rules for new talks as simple prudence.

“It is most helpful to the negotiation process to see proposals in writing,” he said in the letter. “Specifically, it is much easier to know the areas of agreement and disagreement prior to starting from scratch.’

“It is also most important to obtain consensus prior to convening the Legislature. To do otherwise could waste considerable taxpayer money,” Colwell wrote.


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