AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills and members of her staff met privately with legislative leaders from both parties for more than an hour Tuesday afternoon as officials face a looming unofficial deadline for budget negotiations.

Gov. Janet Mills delivers her State of the Budget address on Feb. 14 at the State House in Augusta. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The meeting led to no apparent breakthroughs in the budget talks, although some participants indicated the bipartisan negotiations will continue.

The meeting comes as Democrats approach a deadline of April 1 to decide whether they want to continue negotiations toward a bipartisan two-year spending plan that can win the support of two-thirds of the Legislature or pass a simple majority budget without Republican support.

A majority budget would not take effect until 90 days after enactment so it would need to pass by April 1 to avoid a government shutdown when the next fiscal year begins July 1. On the other hand, a bipartisan budget supported by two-thirds of the Legislature would take effect immediately after the Legislature adjourns.

It’s a politically fraught decision for both parties.

A majority budget with only Democratic support could upend Mills’ campaign promises to work in a bipartisan manner after cruising to reelection, and with her party maintaining control of the House and Senate. And Republicans want their priorities reflected in the final budget. But continuing negotiations beyond April 1 and failing to secure two-thirds support by July could lead to a government shutdown.


Mills spokesperson Ben Goodman said in a written statement that the governor called the meeting Tuesday and remains optimistic.

“The Governor felt the meeting was positive and productive, and she appreciated the engagement from leaders of both parties and both houses,” Goodman said. “She will continue to work with them in the coming days to discuss potential avenues to move the budget forward.”

Faced with historic state revenues and surpluses, Mills is facing pressure from her own party to make investments in services and state programs. Republicans, on the other hand, argue the surpluses should be used to reduce taxes and point to a statutory spending cap as leverage to win concessions.

That spending cap was enacted nearly 20 years ago as a way to control state and local spending once the state began providing 55% of the education costs in public schools. The Legislature met that school funding mark in the previous budget, triggering the cap in the next two-year spending plan.

But Mills’ budget proposes to rewrite that law and change the formula used to set the cap. The change would allow Mills to increase the state budget by about $900 million instead of being limited to an increase of $400 million to $500 million.

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said during a weekly press briefing Tuesday that the governor had called a meeting of legislative leaders to discuss the governor’s proposed $10.3 billion budget that he argued had “hundreds of millions of dollars in waste,” without offering specifics.


Stewart noted the timing of the meeting as April 1 approaches. He said Democrats are rushing the budget process and that “all signs point” to Democrats passing a majority budget.

“We’re worried they’re going to ram a majority budget through that isn’t going to have any tax cuts at all and is only going to have Democrat priorities in it,” Stewart said. “It would be a tremendous blow to the institution that is the Legislature and the process we are supposed to be utilizing here in the State of Maine.”

After the meeting later Tuesday afternoon, Stewart and other lawmakers were tightlipped about their discussions with the governor, with some joking that the governor “swore us to secrecy.”

“I would say it was a good discussion,” said Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, the lead Republican on the budget-writing committee. “I think we made a lot of progress in terms of agreeing to work together, rather than separating. The parties kind of outlined the first step and then we’ll talk about the next step and keep going.”

Democratic leaders had less to say.

“What meeting?” Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, joked when questioned by reporters. “As always I love my colleagues and having discussions is always a good thing. You find common ground and I think that’s what we’re doing.”


We just keep working away on the biennium budget,” said Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who co-chairs the budget-writing committee. 

During the campaign, Republicans criticized Mills for passing a majority budget two years ago during the pandemic, saying it contradicted her calls for bipartisanship.

Democrats passed a budget during the pandemic that was a continuation of the previous spending plan as a way to ensure government operations continued to run smoothly. It was later amended with spending changes, including the allocation of increased revenues, which earned two-thirds support.

Even if Democrats pass a majority budget before April, the governor will likely need to submit a change package. Lawmakers are expected to get updated revenue forecasts next month and the state has a constitutional obligation to balance its budget.

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