The presiding officers of the new Legislature on Tuesday revealed their choices for the 16 joint committees that will vet and negotiate bills next year. Included is the composition of an appropriations panel that will have a significant influence over the state’s next two-year budget.

Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Mark Eves, announced their selections in separate statements. Eves chose Rep. Margaret Rotundo, D-Lewiston, as the House chairwoman of the budget panel, while Thibodeau selected Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, as the Senate chairman.

Republicans have the majority in the Senate, while Democrats control the House. Although there had been some squabbling between Democratic and Republican leadership over who would have the majority on each committee, the two sides reached an accord. Because the House has nearly five times as many members as the Senate, Democrats will have majorities on 13 committees, including the budget panel. Republicans will have majorities on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Marine Resources and Agriculture committees.

Republicans made significant gains at the State House during the November election. Gov. Paul LePage was also reelected, prompting some Republican leaders to say they have a mandate from voters for the upcoming legislative session.

Hamper, serving his sixth term in the Legislature, is a staunch conservative seen as being closely aligned with the governor. Similarly, Rotundo, serving her eighth term, is regarded as in step with Eves and the more liberal wing of the Democratic party. She served as the House chairwoman of the budget committee during the previous two-year session. She has been a member of the panel for over a decade.

Thibodeau, who made the rare move of appointing members of his leadership team to two committees, said in a statement that the decision was based on a “very ambitious agenda.”

“That’s why we’re looking at the committee work as an ‘all hands on deck’ situation,” he said in a statement. “I believe that with these committee assignments, the people of Maine will benefit from the legislative experience of both returning Republicans and Democrats and the real-world experience of our newly elected members.”

Eves plugged Rotundo’s credentials in his statement.

“Rep. Rotundo has a proven track record of crafting balanced budgets, which have gained strong support among both parties,” he said. “Maine people can count on her to work with Republicans and the governor to balance a budget that puts jobs and the economy first, while protecting Maine families, students, seniors and our natural resources.”

Legislative leaders have said that voters wanted lawmakers to work together this session. However, the composition of the budget committee, as well as the Health and Human Services, and Energy and Utilities committees, suggests that the two parties will engage in fierce negotiations, if not outright disagreement over major policy initiatives.

LePage, who will unveil his two-year budget plan Jan. 9, proposed a number of deep spending cuts in the second budget proposal of his first term. The Legislature, entirely controlled by Democrats at the time, managed to build a bipartisan coalition to significantly change the governor’s budget plan and avoid a government shutdown in 2013.

A different dynamic is likely this time as Republicans in the Senate are expected to insist that LePage’s budget proposal remain mostly intact. While it’s unclear what the governor’s budget will look like, he’s made no secret that cutting government spending and reducing the state’s income tax top his list of priorities. Both initiatives could be achieved in the two-year budget.

LePage also has claimed a mandate in pursuing changes to the state’s welfare programs. A number of Democrats have acknowledged that LePage and Republicans used welfare effectively during the 2014 campaign, which means some Republican proposals could receive bipartisan support. Democratic support could wither, however, if the proposals go too far against Democrats’ advocacy for a robust safety net.

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