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Legislature begins voting on $9.8 billion budget as Democrats’ deadline approaches

The State House is seen at dawn during the final week of winter, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
The State House is seen at dawn during the final week of winter, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Augusta, Maine.

Democrats in the Legislature began passing a $9.8 billion biennial budget Thursday over objections from Republicans.

The initial vote in the House was 81-63 with the Democratic majority supporting the spending plan and the GOP opposing it.

Democrats have labeled the spending plan a continuing services budget because it contains no new initiatives and ensures that state government will remain open when the current budget expires June 30.

Republicans opposed the bill because they wanted assurances that a separate spending bill to be negotiated later this spring would include a $200 million tax cut and a study of welfare programs.

Democrats rejected that request, but Rep. Melanie Sachs, a Democrat from Freeport, encouraged Republicans to support the proposal anyway.

"A vote for LD 424 means you support certainty for our communities, good and thoughtful governance and the ability to move forward and discuss new initiatives and programs in the next phase of the budget process," Sachs said.

The vote was the first of several expected Thursday evening as Democrats rush to enact it before April 1, thus allowing it to go into effect by July 1.

The Legislature was expected to adjourn after the budget vote, but also return quickly once a special session is called.

The proposal includes local education funding, municipal revenue sharing, free school lunches and funding for state government.

Negotiations on the second part of the budget are expected to take place later this spring

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.