Good morning from Augusta, where we have a budget and have gone from constant action to no action in the State House. Weary reporters are still trying to adjust.
But there’s a lot that didn’t make our stories from the long weekend. Here are some of them:
The impasse popped out of existence like a firecracker. After House Republicans blocked another budget agreement made by the rest of the Legislature on Monday morning, the hope of ending the state shutdown rested largely on the prospect that some of them would change their minds when the bill came back from the Senate for a second vote. The mood was gloomy. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, told a gaggle of reporters that eliminating an increase in the lodging tax, which Gov. Paul LePage and the House Republicans had made clear was a non-starter — was “off the table.”
That’s where things stood for several hours and most of the talk around the State House was about canceling holiday plans and state workers who could go weeks without paychecks. Then the Democrats held a meeting and Gideon announced the deal. The word spread like an explosion through the building, with veteran State House reporter Mal Leary of Maine Public at the very tip of the spear with only the 44th Tweet of his life. (Mal is not a Twitter enthusiast but as the beloved Godfather of the political press corps it’s fitting that he got the scoop.) Here’s your soundtrack, Mal.
After that, it was all formalities. The speeches were over and it was time for 182 of 184 lawmakers present to press green for their budget votes and end the shutdown. After the final vote in the Senate, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, slammed his gavel down much harder than usual, releasing weeks of tension and putting a point on the historic compromise. It was my turn to Tweet and I hope my mom doesn’t find out I swore for the first time on Twitter.
The credit-taking for the deal came quickly. LePage held a bill-signing ceremony alongside a happy group mostly made up of House Republicans. The Maine Republican Party released celebratory memes, touting the deal for and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, for walking a “gauntlet of liberal protesters” and eliminating “their tax hikes.” In a statement, Fredette said House Republicans “held together to get this done for the people of Maine.”
Democrats sounded the bell, too: Gideon released a statement headlined “Speaker Gideon Ends State Shutdown,” saying that despite Republican “roadblocks,” the new budget “makes the largest investment in public education in our state’s history.”
LePage and House Republicans should be happy about getting rid of the surtax that they hate about eight months after voters passed it. Gideon’s messaging was strange, because it matched what Senate Republicans said about offers that they made throughout the process, yet ignores that the surtax already existed.
In the end, the surtax that would have generated roughly $300 million over two years for schools was repealed and replaced with $160 million more for schools. We’ll also note that reporters caught flak from progressives when they didn’t note that net cut enough earlier in budget negotiations.
As for the House Republicans, it was funny to see them working double-time to kill a lodging tax increase similar to one LePage proposed in January. The governor’s line was that his proposal was part of an overall tax reduction scheme, which is true, but again ignores that Democrats were caving on the surtax here. While some Republican-friendly education reforms were included, LePage also didn’t get his biggest priority: a pilot statewide teacher contract.
In budget talks, each side needs something to take back to their base. But these documents are grand compromises, so partisans shouldn’t be too excited.
While most legislators spent the weekend and Monday milling around the State House, a few were absent. And others dashed to Augusta for the final vote. Despite the lopsided votes that ended the evening, for a long time it looked like every last vote would be crucial as House Republicans were slowly shifting from “no” to “yes.”
Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, one of the few Republicans who had been voting with the Democrats in favor of the budget and against a shutdown, probably wins the award for dedication. Bickford had a stent implanted in one of his arteries earlier Monday but was present and voting later at the State House.
The only lawmakers who were absent for the final 147-2 House vote were Rep. Ralph Chapman, I-Brooksville — who published a Penobscot Pay Press column saying he was protesting a flawed process — and Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, who was charged with operating under the influence recently and excused for health reasons.
Things looked a lot like the 1991 shutdown. A photo album from Maine’s 1991 shutdown by Joe Gromelski, now a reporter for Stars and Stripes, mostly features weary lawmakers and looks eerily like the State House this year. Compare this shot of Gideon and Thibodeau on the balcony to this one or the Bangor Daily News’ front page photo of Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, to this one. Things don’t change.
What’s left. There is still some business left for the first session of the 128th Legislature, but it will wait a couple of weeks. Among the items left are deciding which bills from the Appropriations Table — which is where bills that need funding go, usually to die — will make it into law. There are also a number of proposals for bonds and another potentially bruising negotiation is on tap to decide which to send to referendum.
And finally, there will presumably be a number of vetoes from LePage, which lawmakers will have to vote to override or sustain. With the five-day extension of the legislative session approved by lawmakers, there are two approved days left for the Legislature to meet.
Senate President Thibodeau said Monday night that it will probably be two or three weeks before the Legislature comes back. We’ll keep you posted, but we won’t miss them for now. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd
- Maine government shutdown ends after LePage and Gideon cut late-night budget deal — Christopher Cousins, Bangor Daily News
- An unapologetic Chris Christie announces deal to end NJ government shutdown — The Washington Post
- Tiny Eastport hosts Maine’s biggest Fourth of July parade, Sens. Collins and King — Danielle McLean, BDN
- Fourth of July festivities a family tradition for many Mainers — Dawn Gagnon, BDN
- Secretary of State Dunlap says Maine won’t release voter data to Trump’s voter-fraud panel — Cousins
- Maine liquor regulators urge a ban on nips — Steve Collins, Sun Journal
- Witnesses recall terror, destruction during record four-tornado day in Maine — WGME
- North Korean missile was ‘real ICBM’ capable of reaching Alaska — a grave milestone — The Washington Post
The not-so-daily Daily Brief
Please excuse us if there are some days coming up when the Daily Brief won’t arrive in your inbox, or will arrive later than usual.
We’ll give you notice of the days we’ll be off, but this warning is a reflection of a few undeniable facts:
- Everyone in Maine knows that July is for fun. Most of you won’t be checking your email every day anyway, if you’re lucky.
- We don’t expect a lot of action at the State House for the next few weeks. Taking a break will save y’all from reading stories about Chris’ kids’ dirty socks and tales of Craigslist depravity from Mike.
- It’s been a tough slog and we all need a break from politics.
- We might be drunk. Here’s our soundtrack.
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