Legislature Adjourns After Gov. Mills Pushes Back on Democrats’ Full Wishlist of Spending

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On Friday, May 10, the 131st Legislature met for the last time to address the vetoes which Gov. Janet Mills issued after the Legislature concluded its work on April 17. State law allows the Legislature to convene for one additional day to address vetoes, though legislative leadership had plans to do more than that on Veto Day. Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross wanted to pass new laws containing millions of dollars in additional spending. Preparations had already been made for this plan, as the Appropriations Committee met on Tuesday, May 7 to amend bills for final floor votes on Veto Day.

Appropriations sent these bills to the Senate, which passed roughly 80 bills on Friday. About 50 of those bills required amendments and were sent to the House, but the House never considered them. Roughly 30 of those bills were passed to be enacted in the Senate without amendments, and those measures now sit on Gov. Mills’ desk. In total, those 30 bills amount to roughly $2.1 million in new spending in the current budget cycle and roughly $9 million in future bienniums.

Gov. Mills made it crystal clear that she opposed any new spending, and because of this, Speaker Talbot Ross was forced to adjourn the House without considering any of the bills the Senate had amended and approved. This move by Gov. Mills was an excellent way to use her power as chief executive to check an overactive and politically-motivated Legislature. However, she still acknowledged the Senate did additional legislative work and put new business on her desk. The governor now has 10 days to decide whether or not she signs any of the bills put on her desk by the Senate. Anything she does not sign during this 10-day window will effectively be vetoed.

This situation–infighting among Democratic leadership–began to unfold several weeks ago when the Legislature announced a staggering fact: around $11.4 million of state funding had not been allocated as part of the final supplemental budget deal. This “failure” to spend every available penny was likely a consequence of the chaos that ensued in the Appropriations Committee near the end of the session in April. The Appropriations Committee’s ambitious attempt at massive budgetary restructuring and other gimmicks, though unsuccessful, resulted in $11 million being taken from the highway budget–roughly the same amount lawmakers had left to spend in unallocated revenue. 

If the House had amended and passed all of these bills like the Senate, they would have also been sent to Gov. Mills desk, which would have caused several legal issues. Few problems would have arisen if Gov. Mills pocket-vetoed them all, as they would have died assuming the legislature did not call a special session to address them. However, if Gov. Mills had signed these bills–or signs the ones currently sitting on her desk–the legality of the laws could be a serious issue considering the improper procedure they passed with creates legal grounds to challenge them in court.

One bill sent to the House was LD 936, which required employers to disclose open positions’ pay ranges and to implement pay history record keeping. The House did not consider this bill, but if it had been passed into law, businesses not doing both of these things would be violating the law. If a business failed to comply with this bill, a state court potentially would have been forced to step in and determine whether the law was legally considered and approved by the Legislature on Veto Day.

Depending on the behavior of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches in this scenario, we could have had a full-blown constitutional crisis on our hands, and all because Senate President Jackson and Speaker Talbot Ross did not want this $11 million to go unspent.

In addition to the 30 spending bills, lawmakers also responded to the governor’s previous vetoes, all of which were sustained including LD 1231. This bill would have significantly increased Maine’s income tax rates and justified the increase by providing minimal income tax reductions for lower-income earners. Many Democrats and some Republicans, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Meldon Carmichael, supported the bill. But in the end, a majority of legislators agreed with Gov. Mills veto of LD 1231 and voted to sustain it.

The legislative session is finally over and the 131st legislature has met for the final time barring an unexpected special session. We will have to wait until November to see if the controversial behavior of Democratic leadership in the final weeks of session impacts the outcome of the upcoming elections or the inter-party relations of the Maine Legislature next year.