Our analysts this week are former state Sen. Phil Harriman and former state Sen. and Mayor of Portland Ethan Strimling.
MAINE, USA — On Friday, Gov. Janet Mills presented her new economic reopening plans.
The “Moving Maine Forward” plan includes much freer travel to Maine from most other states and big increases in indoor and outdoor gathering capacity in time for Memorial Day and the summer tourist season.
Mask mandates remain in effect, and the Maine Center for Disease Control can dial the numbers back if health risks and hospitalizations reach critical levels.
“What a breath of fresh air compared to what some governors are doing down south,” Ethan Strimling said. “I’m pleased that she’s taking it slow. She’s very clear where we’re going, but making sure that mandates like masks and safety protocols still have to be in place.”
Phil Harriman said it is great news that will “create a burst of enthusiasm amongst people who have been hunkered down.”
“Let’s hope this is the beginning of a rejuvenated Maine economy,” he said.
Two sets of budget negotiations are underway at the State House. Republicans and Democrats in Augusta are still at odds over the supplemental budget, which now includes a plan to forgive state taxes on all of the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses. But it will need the support of two-thirds of the legislature to be enacted.
Harriman thinks it will happen.
“The Legislature goes through this dance every budget cycle, and they know they have to come to agreement,” he said. “No one wants to see the state shut down.”
Strimling said he’s disappointed that Republicans on the Appropriations Committee “bailed on a legitimate compromise. Democrats gave in on the PPP.”
And he said they added a $10,000 tax break on pandemic unemployment benefits.
“It’s an additional tax break, but targeted to the workers of the state. It’s smart by Democrats,” Strimling said.
All of that is part of the supplemental budget through the rest of this fiscal year.
Lawmakers are also hard at work on the budget for the next two years. There are calls to take some money away from corrections and public safety and put it into mental health and drug treatment instead. One lawmaker said the war on drugs has not stopped the flow of drugs so, for example, we should not expand the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
“Our mental health system in the state is shattered, not just cracked,” Strimling said. “The right approach is to try to make sure that we ship more funds into mental health and social services.”
Harriman agrees with spending more on helping people dealing with mental health issues, but not at the expense of drug enforcement.
He said, “Let’s look at another place to pull those dollars from … there’s already $1 billion of federal money working its way through Maine from the Trump administration.”
There is a special election on Tuesday, March 9, to fill the District 14 Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. The district includes Chelsea, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Randolph, Readfield, West Gardiner, and Winthrop.
The Democratic candidate is former Rep. Craig Hickman and the Republican is businessman Will Guerette.
Harriman said, “I don’t think the Democrats have anything to lose in this election. The Republicans have got to demonstrate that they are on the move again, and winning the seat would be a step in that direction.”
Strimling said the Democrats already have a solid majority, so there’s not much at stake in the balance of power.
But he pointed out that “the early absentees are leaning heavily Democratic.”
He says the focus is really on the 2022 election.
“If Republicans can’t pick up the seat and a special election, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for them to pick up the majority when we get to the midterms.”
Strimling and Harriman also discussed President Joe Biden’s immigration policy, Rep. Jared Golden’s breaks with his party on two major bills over the past week, and former President Donald Trump’s role in the future of the Republican Party.
Political Brew airs Sundays on The Weekend Morning Report.