They say to the winner goes the spoils. Maine Democrats, who secured the majority in both state House and Senate last election, also got their way with the budget last week. The two-year, $8.3 billion budget passed by a majority vote. The final vote on the bill in the House was 77-67. The final vote in the Senate was 20-14, with just two Democrats opposed. One of them, Sen. Bill Diamond, of Windham, said his principles dictate he seek a bipartisan and supermajority budget.
As far as spoils go, the budget is far from a partisan haul. It more or less continues the current budget, which received bipartisan support two years ago. Democrats billed it as “back to basics.” “Sham,” “forced” and “bullied” were some of the descriptors Republicans chose.
Approving the budget before April 1 meant that only simple majority approval was needed. After that date, two-thirds support in both chambers is required. Democrats say passing the budget this way ensures stability, shooing away the storm clouds of a possible government shutdown July 1, if the players could not come to terms in time. Still, the process has all the sting of a childhood taunt: “We’re going to take our ball and go home.” And they did. After the budget passed, the Legislature adjourned. Their business is hardly done, however.
Governor Mills said she would sign the budget and later propose a supplemental budget for the Legislature’s consideration. Lawmakers will help determine how federal stimulus dollars will be allocated and there are still bills to consider. Mills said she would call the Legislature back on April 28, if legislators had not already resumed their work.
We are all for stability. Having a state budget in hand helps cities, towns and school districts have some certainty in drafting their own spending plans. State workers will not have to worry that their paychecks are leverage in a political standoff this year. Still, it’s a sad commentary on modern politics that in order to stave off a theoretical government shutdown, the minority party has to be shut out.
There’s another old saying: you reap what you sow. In this case, that would be seeds of discontent. Bipartisan consensus is going to be a hard sell going forward. Unfortunate, as that is something that could offer a real sense of stability to Mainers.