LePage’s veto dance card is full but everything else is in flux as lawmakers prep for return

Good morning from Augusta, where the 10-day window for Gov. Paul LePage to veto bills enacted by the Legislature closed on Monday, possibly solidifying lawmakers’ agenda when they return on Wednesday.

LePage vetoed six more bills before Monday’s deadline, increasing the list to 20 he has tried to block in recent days. Each vetoed bill requires a two-thirds override vote Wednesday in both the House and Senate if it is to survive.

Lawmakers will chew through the vetoes on Wednesday, but it’s unclear how they will address lots of unfinished business. Also expected Wednesday is a vote about whether to extend this year’s legislative session to deal with a number of other bills awaiting final action or to formally adjourn the second regular session, raising the possibility of a special session later this year.

When the Legislature was last in on April 18, House Republicans blocked the extension of the session because House Democrats kept delaying action on Republican bills while refusing to entertain a proposal to slow the increase in Maine’s minimum wage, which is currently $10 an hour and will rise to $12 by 2020. The Senate had voted unanimously to keep working

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is pushing for an extension of the current session, partially because it would be less expensive. Extending the current session would cost $23,381 the first day and $17,745 for additional days in the same week, while a special session would cost $37,081 for the first day and $31,445 for subsequent days in the same week. Those figures don’t include pay for legislative committee clerks and the cost of advertising and printing. The difference is because lawmakers would be paid for a special session but not an extension of the current one.

Another impasse centers on a tax conformity bill that’s a response to major changes made in the federal tax code last year. LePage and some Republicans are calling for roughly $111 million in tax cuts — and a net $88 million reduction in Mainers’ overall tax burden — while Democrats are advocating for a “revenue neutral” plan that wouldn’t affect how much money flows to state government.

Bond questions are usually a key topic late in the second session. But, after the budget committee spent a few days earlier this year sorting through a host of proposed borrowing suggestions, other conflicts have pushed aside debate over potential bond questions for voters to decide in November. Proposals to upgrade University of Maine facilities, a standard transportation maintenance bond and a plan to help ease student debt — which LePage touted again in one of his Monday veto letters — remain in limbo and will not move forward without legislative action.

After a 10-day cooling-off period, we’ll see if a sense of urgency to deal with so many unresolved issues can supplant the rancor that plunged the final hours of April 18 into deep partisan gridlock. This session has already featured many unexpected twists and turns, including Gideon and Democrats diving deep into procedural rules to extend the legislative session in the wee hours of April 19 by implication. Whether that holds is crucial for a number of bills left in the process, including the tax conformity bill, a usually routine but crucial education funding bill and dozens of other spending bills that have bipartisan support, which are essentially dead if the session adjourns without action on them or on a late maneuver to keep them on life support in case a special session is called.

Eves’ campaign unionizes

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s campaign is the first in the region’s history to organize. Former House Speaker Mark Eves’ campaign said in a Monday news release that his staff voted to join the Campaign Workers Guild, a nascent union that is organizing campaigns in a bid to get staffers higher wages, sick days and health coverage. The campaign said it was only the third gubernatorial effort to unionize and the first in New England.

Democratic politics are at play here. In a statement, Eves said it’s “long past due that Democratic candidates who claim to stand up for working people walk the walk and encourage their own campaigns to organize” — a shot at the rest of the seven-person primary field.

Eves is seen by many as one of three favorites for the nomination alongside Attorney General Janet Mills and attorney Adam Cote. The Republican Governors Association trolled those two over Eves’ move on Tuesday, arguing that they should say if they’re going to follow him.

The labor vote could be crucial in a fractured primary. Eves won a straw poll of union members at a debate hosted by labor groups in Winslow on Saturday and Cote was endorsed last week by the Maine State Council of Machinists, the state’s third-largest union, according to MaineBiz.

LePage talks energy in Houston

The Republican governor had a speaking slot at an energy conference in Texas on Monday. LePage spoke at the Offshore Technology Conference, which is supported by oil, gas and engineering interests on Monday alongside Republican members of Congress from Louisiana and Arizona. On Twitter, LePage said “we have to be good stewards of our environment,” but “there is no reason why we cannot reinvent ourselves using the incredible technology” developed recently in the energy sector.”

Reading list

  • The accused killer of a sheriff’s deputy will undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The suspect, John D. Williams of Madison, will be held without bail at Maine State Prison while he undergoes the evaluation. According to court documents, Williams forced friends to give him rides after allegedly shooting Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday. The documents allege that Williams had been on a days-long crack cocaine binge leading up to the shooting. He told a friend “my life’s over” before fleeing into the woods and triggering a four-day manhunt.
  • Proponents of Medicaid expansion are taking LePage to court. The suit filed against the Department of Health and Human Services in Kennebec County Superior Court seeks to force Maine to file a state plan amendment with the federal government regarding how it will open coverage to some 70,000 more Mainers in July. LePage has said he won’t make any moves toward expansion until the Legislature allocates funding, though Maine Equal Justice Partners, who are spearheading the suit, say there is enough of a surplus this year to launch the program.
  • The field of Democrats vying to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is shrinking. Jonathan Fulford, a builder from Monroe and former legislative candidate, suspended his campaign Monday, leaving Jared Golden of Lewiston, Craig Olson of Islesboro and Lucas St. Clair of Hampden as the three remaining candidates in the June 12 primary. Fulford did not offer a reason for his departure from the race.
  • Max Linn is making a last-ditch effort to get back onto the Republican U.S. Senate primary ballot. The Bar Harbor man asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Monday to overturn Superior Court Justice William Stokesdecision to remove him from the ballot. Linn, who gained ballot certification in March, lost it after two separate reviews of nominating petitions found enough fraudulent or invalid signatures to boot him from the ballot. State Sen. Eric Brakey, whose campaign challenged Linn’s status, is now the only Republican on the primary ballot for a chance to take on independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Ranked-choice eating

Professors in the University of Maine’s political science department held a bit of a shindig Monday to honor professor Michael Palmer, who will retire at the end of this semester (and gave the Daily Brief’s Michael Shepherd a hard-earned B in intro to political theory in 2010).

Palmer likes pie and requested blueberry, but nothing is simple in academia.

“Because we are all giant political science nerds,” someone wrote on the department’s Facebook page, the pies came from Dysart’s, Frank’s Bakery and Custom Catering and Governor’s Restaurant, and the attendees voted for their favorite using ranked-choice voting.

“We are pleased to announce that the pie from Dysart’s was the winner with an outright majority in the first round of voting and no need to redistribute votes or eliminate pies from consideration,” they wrote. “We didn’t even need to call in the Maine Department of the Secretary of State for assistance.”

That leaves crucial elements of the ranked-choice voting system, including how ballots would be transported to Augusta for tallying, untested. But we can’t blame the professors, who were probably in a rush to get to the coffee or a nap after all that pie in the afternoon. Here’s their soundtrack. Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

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.