As adjournment looms, Maine lawmakers have plenty of vetoes but no budget

The end of the legislative session is oh so close, yet so far away.

Wednesday marks the statutory adjournment date for the Legislature, which means that’s the day that was set months ago for lawmakers to wrap up their work. To go beyond that day will require a vote of the Legislature, a routine matter which in the past has caused controversy.

Lawmakers are not paid salaries for additional days at the end of the legislative session but do receive meal allowances of $32, mileage and a housing and travel allowance of up to $38 per day. Added costs also would accrue from compensating some legislative staff who work only when the Legislature is in session.

With the exception of the state biennial budget, which as you know is stuck at an impasse that threatens to trigger a government shutdown on July 1, this Legislature has completed most of its workload, according to the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis.

Jon Clark, its deputy director, said that as of Friday there were fewer than 100 active bills left in the possession of the House and Senate. There are 65 still in committee, most of those in the Appropriations Committee and many of those bond proposals.

That reflects a rather frantic decision-making pace — by legislative standards — since mid-February, when lawmakers had dispensed with only four of roughly 1,800 pieces of proposed legislation.

Clark said that about 75 bills are waiting for Gov. Paul LePage to sign, veto, or let go into law on their own. The odds that many of those will be vetoed are high, judging by recent history. On Friday alone, LePage issued eight new vetoes. Among those is LD 1326, which provides a “medical assistance” exemption from criminal liability for a person who seeks treatment for an overdose.

That is similar to another bill that sought to provide exemptions from prosecution for reporting another person’s overdose, which LePage vetoed and which the Legislature sustained earlier this month.

LePage also vetoed LD 1010, which would put new regulations and new fees on transportation networks that operate at airports, such as Uber, and LD 454, which would require the state to set up an outreach program to urge people to have their well water tested for contaminants.

Also vetoed Friday were LD 591, LD 1062, LD 507, LD 929, and LD 1462.

The vetoes and remaining unresolved bills give rank-and-file lawmakers something to occupy their time as leaders continue to try to hash out a budget that would win two-thirds support in both the House and Senate. In pursuit of that elusive compromise, leaders met Saturday morning but failed to move the ideological boulder that blocks their path to a deal. Saturday’s meeting was so unproductive that leaders abandoned plans to resume discussions on Sunday.

Democratic leaders continue to insist that the next budget provide 55 percent of the total cost of public K-12 education. Republicans continue to demand a way to negate the impact of the 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 that voters approved in November 2016,

House Republicans also insist that the total budget not exceed $7 billion for the two-year period that begins July 1. LePage’s original biennial spending plan, which he unveiled in early January, called for approximately $6.8 billion in state spending.

Legislators also have to respond to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion that ranked-choice voting as passed by voters in November violates the Maine Constitution. And some lawmakers want answers to lingering questions about this year’s referendum on whether to allow a new casino in York County.

On top of all that work is the governor’s right to introduce new bills at any time during the session. There are many uncertainties when it comes to ending a legislative session. This year in particular, starting any kind of countdown with so many moving parts would be foolhardy. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Sen. Angus King said the Senate’s probe into Russian election interference is roughly 20 percent done. The Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats and serves on the Senate intelligence committee told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the committee’s probe could be done by the end of the year, calling “a very complex matter, involving thousands of pages of intelligence documents, lots of witnesses.” Last week on Twitter, President Donald Trump attacked media who he said “made up” reports that his campaign was being investigated for collusion with Russia, but King said “categorically” that the collusion piece of the Senate investigation “is not over.” The Washington Post reported last week that Trump is being investigated for obstruction of justice by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. — Michael Shepherd
  • The Legislature said no to a tribal casino — again. LD 1447 would have allowed the Houlton Band of Maliseets to create a casino on Route 1 in Houlton, the revenues from which would have been shared with the state and Maine’s other Native American tribes. The bill passed narrowly in the House of Representatives early last week, 74-70, but failed in the Senate on Friday, 23-12. That puts the bill in non-concurrence between the chambers, which probably means it’s dead, though more procedural votes are coming. Numerous attempts by the tribes to enter the gaming sector have been rejected in recent years by both the Legislature and Maine voters at referendum. — Christopher Cousins
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree called Trump’s rollback of Obama-era Cuba policy ‘petty, foolish, and bad for both nations.’ On Friday, the Republican president issued a directive that barred Americans from planning their own trips to Cuba, placing stricter rules on those who go there on group tours and keeps American companies from doing business with the Cuban government. It partially reinstated U.S. policies that were in place before former President Barack Obama loosened them in 2016, although Trump left many items untouched, including establishment of diplomatic relations with the communist regime. Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, called it “petty, foolish, and bad for both nations” in a statement, saying isolationist policies “keep the people of that nation in extreme poverty and keep Maine and U.S. businesses from accessing a new market.” — Michael Shepherd
  • Right now, a hypothetical 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary under ranked-choice voting would be a mess, according to a poll. Critical Insights examined a five-person primary field in May, looking at the race through the lens of ranked-choice voting, the voter-approved law in limbo after Maine’s high court deemed it unconstitutional last month. It set a five-person field including one declared candidate — attorney Adam Cote of Sanford — and four potential candidates, Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap of Old Town and former Maine House speakers Mark Eves of North Berwick and John Richardson of Brunswick. The survey sampled 319 Democratic voters, but only 37 percent were able to make a first choice. Of those who did, Mills won 49 percent of votes. However, when voters were questioned under Maine’s plurality system, she was only backed by 34 percent of that sample. The poll was paid for and released on Friday by Chris O’Neil, a Portland-based government relations consultant and a former Democratic state representative who is opposed to ranked-choice voting. A caveat is that it’s early and voters would more easily make choices as candidates re-introduce themselves to voters. — Michael Shepherd
  • The House of Representatives sustained a LePage veto on Friday. The bill in question, LD 412, would have required high schools to add home economics and industrial arts to graduation requirements and for the Department of Education to add them to the state’s learning results standards. The bill was initially approved unanimously and on Thursday, the Senate overrode the veto with a 31-4 vote, but the House sustained it 79-62. LePage wrote in his veto message that he opposes the bill because it represents an unfunded mandate on the executive branch. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

You read a lot about the Legislature’s agenda for Monday through Wednesday — which is supposed to be the final day of the session — already. But the House and Senate calendars are full with important votes set.

Among the Senate’s 15 enactment votes is one on a bill asking Maine voters to amend the constitution to require that referendum campaigns must collect qualifying signatures from a number of voters equaling 10 percent those who voted in the last gubernatorial election in both Maine’s two congressional districts. Current law requires 10 percent of those voters statewide.

The House has to dispense with five LePage vetoes and another 13 reports that came divided from committees. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Pop flies on hot cars

As an escape from politics and journalism, I umpire baseball games, usually three or four times a week from late April through early August. I work every level from 9-year-olds to 60-plus men’s leagues.

I started umpiring when I was 13, having already realized that my playing skills were so bad that the only way I could stay on the field was as an umpire. I have worked games with grand slams, triple plays, home runs over a mini Green Monster, great pitching (although I don’t recall ever working a perfect game) and when tournament titles were won. I’ve seen lots of excitement resulting from individual and team accomplishments.

But nothing seems to jazz up players more than nailing a vehicle with a batted ball (almost always foul, but even better when it is a home run into a parking lot behind the fence). I did an American Legion game on Saturday in which the same SUV, parked seemingly safely on the street, got hit three times. The players — high school varsity and college level — could not contain their excitement.

But this conversation with a 10-year-old on Thursday probably best captures the vibe.

Batter (excitedly): Wooo, I just hit a BMW.

Me: Yup, that’s strike two. One ball, two strikes

Coach (pointing to the field): You need to hit it that way.

Batter: I almost hit an F-250 too.

Me: We are ready when you are. Please step into the box.

Batter: Do you think it made a dent?

Me: Play.

Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.