The last spending battle of the 131st Legislature


Democrats in the Legislature made several questionable financial decisions in this year’s legislative session. They not only diverted money from the transportation budget for General Fund spending and spent the bulk Governor Janet Mills’ proposed slush fund, but they also unnecessarily tapped into $60 million from Maine’s Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the “rainy day fund.” Despite these actions, they still managed to lose track of more than $11 million in unspent revenue, and instead of trying to return that money to the people of Maine, Democrats are still looking for things to spend it on.

A recent Portland Press Herald Article discusses the Legislature’s regret at not being able to spend all available revenue, and that they are consulting with Attorney General Aaron Frey on how to reconvene to spend more. The Legislature will not be able to do this without the support of either Gov. Mills or both parties, and if either group truly cares about the fiscal health of our state, they should refuse to sign on to another special session. 

The Legislature has not reached the official end of the second session as, statutorily, they have one day left to meet after Gov. Mills’ veto period passes. However, legally, they can only discuss “possible objections of the Governor to any bill or resolution presented to the Governor.” The only other way they could reconvene to consider additional spending is to call a special session. Thus, if they want to spend this money somehow, they either need the Governor’s support or the consent of the majority of both parties in the Legislature.

While executive and legislative leadership have not yet indicated whether they intend to convene a special session, they have no other avenue to spend this money that complies with the statutory and procedural rules that bind them. Therefore, if Democrats want to spend this money, they need Gov. Mills’ or Republican buy-in.

But what will happen to this money if they do not reconvene? It won’t just disappear into the ether; it will go into an overflow cascade about which Maine Policy has previously written. For every dollar that goes into the cascade, 80 cents go to the Budget Stabilization Fund and 20 cents go to the Highway and Bridge Capital Program. So, while the Legislature has taken $60 million from our rainy day fund and $11 million from the Highway Fund, allowing this money to go unallocated would indirectly reduce that damage.

While this is far cry from the amount of money raided from these areas this session, and the fact that the transportation funding would not be going to the same place from which it was taken, this would at least partially reduce the damage the legislature has done to Maine’s fiscal health in the most recent supplemental budget.

This is why, when facing the ongoing negotiations, Gov. Mills and legislative Republicans need to refuse to give in to any possible pressure from Democrats to hold a special session. While Gov. Mills has not been loyal to her slogan of fiscal restraint–and Republicans have not been strong advocates for limited government–this is possibly their last chance to spare some final amount of money from being wasted.