Maine Democrats hold wide legislative money lead ahead of 2016 races

Good morning from Portland. Why am I here? Well, Augusta is empty for two reasons: Patriot’s Day (yes, that’s where Maine puts the apostrophe) and the Legislature finished its business just after 2 a.m. on Saturday.

The last day’s action included a bipartisan compromise on purchase bans for alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, tattoos and other items using cash assistance, a $13.5 million biomass industry bailout and a proposed $150 million bond package for transportation and research and development.

That was the end of regular business for the Legislature in 2016, but they aren’t done. They could be back on Wednesday to handle any line-item vetoes issued by Gov. Paul LePage and they’re virtually certain to be back on April 29 to handle regular vetoes.

But legislators, parties and other groups are certainly now thinking about how action from the 2015 and 2016 sessions will look on campaign mailers and TV ads.

The party caucuses have been raising money with control of both chambers on a knife’s edge: Republicans have a 20-15 majority in the Senate and Democrats are up 78-69 in the House of Representatives.

The parties’ legislative campaign arms had more than $600,000 in their war chests as of March’s end, according to state finance reports. Democrats had $440,000 to Republicans’ $163,000.

It’s driven by Senate Democrats, who have $304,000 left to Senate Republicans’ $101,000. The Democrats got $97,000 from a political action committee run by former Maine Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, who’s running for his old seat in 2016, and $36,000 from a PAC led by Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick.

House Democrats — at $136,000 on-hand — are also outpacing their Republican counterparts, who had $61,000. Democrats got $50,000 from author Stephen King.

This isn’t a perfect picture of all the money that the parties will use in legislative races. The Maine Democratic Party had more than $110,000 in a fund aimed at the Legislature and Republicans had nearly $120,000. Also, in many seats, outside money will be more important than party money, anyway.

But it’s another sign of Democrats’ bid to win back the Senate and Republicans’ challenges in fending them off in a presidential year. — Michael Shepherd

Education bills hit LePage’s desk

Tying up some loose ends on the legislative front, a handful of education bills are now on LePage’s desk awaiting action. They didn’t get much attention during the session, but they’d have some reach.

One would clarify Maine’s proficiency-based standards and phase in requirements between 2020 and 2015, while the others would establish a school accountability system and allow the Maine Department of Education to provide supplemental state funding to low-income districts and initiate preschool development grants.

The bills passed the Legislature easily last week. — Michael Shepherd

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About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.