Budget gives everyone something to hate as much as powdered alcohol

Good morning from Augusta, where it’s Wednesday, I think?

My grogginess is probably shared by many of the folks who have spent more time at the State House than not in the past few days but here’s what makes it worth it: After a month of reporting that a budget talks had stalled, that a deal remained elusive, or that a shutdown seemed all but inevitable, I can report this morning that a budget has been approved by the Legislature.

And in a fashion that some would feel was against all odds, the $6.7 billion two-year spending plan includes not only tax reform that will result in $71 million less in taxes every year, but welfare changes as well.

(For those of you who love documents, here’s the bulk of the budget, as approved by the Appropriations Committee; here is the deal struck by party leaders and passed as an amendment that made the budget palatable to a super-majority of the Legislature; here’s the distributional analysis of the tax reform plan in that deal, and here’s its fiscal note, both prepared by Maine Revenue Services.)

Republicans got their big income tax cut, but were unable to force spending cuts that would have shrunk the budget to smaller than last year’s. Democrats got their investments in education and property tax relief, but failed to impose a provision to ensure asylum seekers and other immigrants would not be abandoned as Gov. Paul LePage embarks on a mission to shrink social services.

In other words, there was something for everyone to like — and the other thing too.

“We can all find something we don’t like about this budget,” said Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, during a floor session late Tuesday night.

Now the plan is en route to LePage’s desk, where the governor says he’ll bust out the veto pen in an attempt to thwart the deal. If the majority that passed the budget remains intact, overriding the veto should be no problem. But the timing of this veto dance will likely bring the state right up to the midnight June 30 deadline.

In the meantime, the Legislature still has lots of other work to do, and they’ll be working long hours at breakneck speed for the rest of the week to get it done. There are still several welfare reform bills, including a few of LePage’s proposals, to vote on, as well as recreational marijuana legalization, just to name two.

But for now, enjoy this (admittedly short) Daily Brief, and keep checking bangordailynews.com for your #mepolitics fix. Don’t forget you can subscribe to receive the Daily Brief in your email inbox, too. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Seriously guys, there will be no powdered alcohol in Maine

The Maine Legislature is really, really determined to make powdered alcohol illegal in the state.

On June 15, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would do just that, saying it was unnecessary because the state Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, as well as the State Liquor and Lottery Commission had already indicated they would not allow the sale of powdered alcohol — a product recently approved by the FDA under the name “Palcohol.”

LePage said lawmakers had the wrong priorities, blasting them for not giving him as many new drug agents as he wants in their new budget plan while passing a bill to fine people for possessing Palcohol, which has been marketed as a weight-efficient booze alternative for hikers and campers.

“It is outrageous that the Legislature would rather impose fines on tourists than take action to stop the flow of illegal drugs,” LePage wrote in his veto letter.

But as it’s done so many times this session, the Legislature held its ground and overrode the veto, with a vote of 108-39 in the House and 34-1 in the Senate.

“Thanks to the Legislature, Maine is taking decisive action to prevent powdered alcohol from coming into our state,” said Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, the bill’s sponsor, in a prepared statement. “The potential for misuse and abuse would have been extraordinarily high. It’s a simple matter of public safety, especially for young people. Ingesting powdered alcohol could easily lead to overdoses and more alcohol-related car accidents.”

— Mario Moretto, BDN.

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The sight for sore (and red) eyes

LATENIGHTBUDGET061615-1.jpgI cannot think of a sight that was more welcome than the one of House staff — Sergeant at Arms Normand Arbor and page Alyson Pelletier — ripping down the legislative notices after the biennial budget passed in the wee hours of this morning.
While not everyone was thrilled with every element of the spending plan, the looks on people’s faces in this photo by Troy R. Bennett show one thing was for sure: People were ready to go home. (UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the woman in the photo above, who is Alyson Pelletier, not Jennifer Jewett. My bad.)– Mario Moretto, BDN.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.