Appropriations Committee Walks Back Most of its Controversial, Last-Minute Budget Changes


The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee met earlier this week at the request of Maine’s political leadership after backlash the Committee faced for its actions in the early morning hours on Saturday, April 6. Maine’s governor, House speaker, and eventually Senate president agreed that the Appropriations Committee had misstepped by compromising the highway budget, removing support for dairy farmers, and reducing tax exemptions promised for retirees during its last-minute budget shenanigans.

In response, the Appropriations Committee undid many of its more controversial proposals but also removed the budget’s emergency preamble. The budget had an emergency preamble because, while emergency bills require supermajority support, they also immediately pass into law upon earning the governor’s signature. Thus, by removing this provision, they are signaling they do not expect Republican support for their budget. Instead of moving forward with a partisan budget plan, Republicans and Democrats should encourage more responsible spending and make bipartisan amendments to the budget so Mainers’ emergency funding is not delayed by months.

One of the most unpopular inclusions in the supplemental budget was raiding $60 million from the Highway Fund to the General Fund, in addition to adopting a unified budget amendment  so the Appropriations Committee could control all state spending. Appropriations has removed this provision. However, they are still taking $11 million in liquor fund revenue that was going to Maine’s highways. They also undid their cutback on pension deductions and included a $3 million support fund for dairy farmers.

While these provisions were enough to make Democrat leadership happy, they still included provisions that alienated the committee’s Republican members. Most notable was a one-time transfer of $18 million to fund a rent release pilot, the increase of the education tech and school support minimum wage, and the inclusion of Gov. Mill’s storm relief bill that draws from the Budget Stabilization Fund, otherwise known as the rainy day fund. Republicans objected, feeling these inclusions gave insufficient support for dairy farmers and rural aging populations, and they felt that the storm relief should draw from the General Fund instead of the Budget Stabilization Fund.

When budget debates continue late into the session, many hope that both parties will work together to find the supermajority in both houses needed to pass an emergency budget. However, by removing the preamble as Democrats did when they agreed to rework their controversial spending plan this week, Appropriations Committee Democrats seem to be giving up on that goal. Republicans in Appropriations crafted their minority budget report, and the final votes on the majority and minority proposals fell along party lines
So, a political game of chicken is now on in the Legislature. Gov. Mills announced that she would sign the budget if it passes in a form similar to its current one. But if the budget does not get Republican support, Maine may go months without various emergency funds from the budget. Republicans in the Legislature will now have to feel the Democrats out to see how willing they are to let that happen, and if there is any willingness to inc