(The Center Square) – Maine Democratic lawmakers made good on their pledges to approve a two-year budget on their own, pushing through the $8.4 billion spending plan Tuesday night without Republican support.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature, meeting at the Augusta Civic Center, employed a seldom used legislative maneuver to approve the biennial spending package with a simple majority vote, bypassing the normally required two-thirds vote to pass it.
The House approved the plan by a vote of 77-67, while the Senate passed it 20-14, mostly along party lines.
Democratic lawmakers had warned the state government would shut down if the budget didn’t pass. They noted that many of the provisions in their "back to basics" budget plan were included in a previous biennial budget Republicans supported.
“While I’m truly disappointed that my Republican colleagues have decided to turn their backs on a budget that had previously earned bipartisan support, we won’t let politics and obstruction get in the way of doing our jobs," Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said in a statement.
Republicans ripped Democrats for pushing through a "sham budget" and said the move doesn't bode well for bipartisan cooperation in the next two years.
"With this forced vote on an incomplete majority budget, we are ending bipartisanship in this chamber," House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said in a statement. "House Republicans will not vote for what we believe to be a bullied budget."
Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Androscoggin, said the two-year spending plan was passed "without deliberation, negotiation, or collaboration."
"Taking this approach and silencing the voices of more than a half-million Mainers is simply wrong," Timberlake said in the statement. "This is why this tactic is almost never used, and why, when it is used, it does great harm to the legislative process indefinitely."
House Appropriations Lead Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, called the move a "power grab on the part of Democrat operatives who feel bipartisanship challenges their ability to rule with dictatorial power."
Under the state Constitution, lawmakers had until April 1 to approve the budget with a simple majority vote, but after that would have needed two-thirds vote.
The current budget expires on June 30, so a new spending plan must be approved before July 1 to avoid a government shutdown.
The budget, which is based on Gov. Janet Mills' preliminary spending plan, includes targeted investments in health care, mental health and substance abuse, schools and expanding broadband access while ensuring that the state has enough funding and resources to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak and vaccine rollout.
It doesn’t raise taxes and boosts the state's "rainy day" reserve fund to more than $320 million.
The spending plan is buoyed by more than $7.6 billion in federal pandemic relief funds, which will be used to reduce the state's projected revenue shortfalls over the next two years.
Mills issued a statement saying she will sign the budget when it reaches her desk on Wednesday.
"While I am disappointed our Republican colleagues did not support it, passing and enacting this budget now provides much-needed stability and ensures continuity of services during this ongoing pandemic," she said.