Maine legislature completes its work on final day in session for the year

Maine State House
Maine State House(WABI)
Published: Jul. 6, 2023 at 7:13 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) - On what was planned and hoped to be their last full day of this year’s Maine state legislative session there were votes on unfinished business, including the rest of the biennial budget, tribal rights, and reproductive rights.

The new fiscal year is underway, having begun July 1, and the government is fully funded for the next two years.

The Democratically controlled House and Senate passed part one of the budget, continuing state services, with $9.9 billion in spending, at the end of march, and Governor Janet Mills immediately signed it.

On Thursday, the House voted first to approve the second part of the budget, about $800 million in new spending, in a party line vote, with only one Republican for it, Rep. Sawin Millett, his party’s lead on the budget he helped craft.

Democratic leaders pointed to progress funding childcare and a new paid family and medical leave program.

Rep. Maureen Terry, (D) Gorham, the House Majority Leader, said in an interview, “That’s going to be such a help to new families, for folks helping with their parents. I’m of that age where I am helping with my parents. I spent all of last summer helping my dad, and had that been in place, I might have been able to make a living.”

But Republicans lamented the lack of income tax cuts they sought and criticized the forthcoming 1% payroll tax, to be split by employers and employees starting in 2025, to finance the paid family and medical leave program.

“At the end of the day, that big tax increase on workers was really killed for us,” Rep. Bill Bob Faulkingham, (R) Winter Harbor, the House Minority Leader, said in an interview.

Rep. Amy Arata, (R) New Gloucester, the House Assistant Minority Leader said in an interview the rate of spending growth in the $10.3 billion biennial budget is too high.

Arata said, “Republicans believe that government should keep its promises. A promise was made in 2005 that spending would have a limit equal to the ten-year average growth in individual wages, and that promise has been broken with this budget. There was also a promise that the sales tax would go from 5.5% back down to 5%. That promise was broken.”

Also Thursday, the House sustained the governor’s veto of the bill to help Native American tribes like the Wabanaki Nations receive more benefits of federal laws.

The bill had passed by a 2/3 majority on June 26, but the “yes” side lost 16 votes, mostly Republicans, nine who switched and absentees, and failed to override.

Supporters, including the House Republican leader Faulkingham, were disappointed.

He said, “It came too close to the end of the session, and the governor had a very convincing veto letter, and people really didn’t have enough time to absorb it and weigh both sides of the issue. So, when in doubt, vote no.”

The bill has been a priority for House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, who had sponsored the bill.

Terry said, “I’m very disappointed that our friends on the other side of the aisle flipped their votes.”

The Senate needed to vote more time to enact the governor’s bill to allow abortion, if medically necessary, after fetal viability at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“We are for women’s, for reproductive rights for anyone who wants to have a family, is trying to have a family, is not ready for a family,” said Terry, who is a mother of three daughters. “I am so pleased with the fact that if something goes wrong with any of their pregnancies, should they choose to have children, that there is a medical staff, there’s medical professionals behind them, being able to help them with whatever they need help with.”

The bill has passed the House and Senate without any Republican votes, though a handful of Democrats and one Independent opposed it.

Faulkingham said, “I think it’s worth noting that there’s bipartisan opposition to it, but not bipartisan support.”