Democrats on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee pushed through a baseline state budget late Friday, after rejecting calls from Republicans to commit to cutting income taxes and studying the state’s welfare system.

The $9.8 billion budget, which faces more votes in the full Legislature next week, does not contain any new initiatives and is $400 million more than the current budget.

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, the lead Republican on the budget committee, said in a written statement Friday that Republicans walked out of budget negotiations after Democrats would not commit to tax cuts for low- and middle-income families.

The budget was then endorsed unanimously by Democrats after they “flatly rejected” calls to pass at least $200 million in income tax cuts, Bennett said.

“I am extremely disheartened after this evening’s developments,” Bennett said. “It is stunning that the Democrats could not even agree to give back $200 million to Maine taxpayers out of a $10-plus billion budget.”

Democrats control both the House and Senate and can pass the proposal without Republican support. Once they do, however, it will not be the final word on the budget, as lawmakers will need to pass a second budget that addresses new spending initiatives and the roughly $700 million remaining in projected revenue.


Any budget vote after April 1 will need to receive two-thirds support of the Legislature for the funding to be available at the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1. Majority approval after that date would delay funding for 90 days.

Democrats on the committee moved to pass a baseline budget Thursday as a way to avoid brinkmanship over a possible government shutdown, which last occurred briefly in 2017 under Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Republicans were initially supportive of the plan, though they foreshadowed a possible confrontation over spending priorities.

Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said the budget is responsible and stays below a spending cap that has been highlighted by Republicans as they look to trim Gov. Janet Mills’ $10.3 billion budget proposal. It maintains important sources of revenue for municipalities, including 55% of public education funding, revenue sharing and universal free school lunches.

“Our intention right along was to pass a continuing services budget – one that pays the bills and funds essential services,” Rotundo said. “Tonight, we kept that promise. The committee approved a baseline budget that honors the state’s commitments on education, child care, hospitals, behavioral health, long-term care and property tax relief. These continued investments will continue to transform our state, while remaining below the spending cap.”

Mills had been urging lawmakers to pass a bipartisan continuing budget proposal before April 1. Her spokespeople could not immediately be reached to discuss the details of the budget Saturday morning.

The Republican proposal had called on the governor to convene a task force to study “misuse and redundancy” in the state’s welfare program, including unemployment, temporary assistance for needy families, MaineCare, general assistance and food stamps. That group would have had to report back to lawmakers by May 15.


Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, said in a written statement that he was surprised by Friday’s outcome.

“I thought we were working well together and I expected an entirely different outcome,” Millett said. “We offered several iterations of our priorities, came back to the table numerous times in an attempt to find common ground. I am deeply disappointed with the end result. A one-party budget does not protect the best interests of Maine citizens.”

The move by Democrats to flex their majority likely will impact the Legislature’s work going forward, not only on the budget but also in other debates through the end of the session.

Rep. Melanie Sachs, D-Freeport, said the budget will provide “predictability, stability and good governance.”

“Ultimately, it builds upon the good bipartisan work that has been accomplished and continues our history of responsible fiscal management of the state’s resources,” Sachs said. “There is much more work ahead, but as displayed tonight, we’re ready to stay at the table and keep making progress for Maine people.”

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