July 18, 2019

Budget warnings

Since Rep. Tina Baker has not appeared before the Appropriations Committee lately, nor has she expressed any concern to either committee chair, I was startled to hear that she has issued a written “warning” to our colleagues about how bills – and their sponsors – might be treated (BDN, April 5).

Yes, the events of the past week have been bruising. No one knows that better than I. But before anyone, especially a senator, cries “abuse” they may want to think back to last Friday’s Senate decision to secretly prepare a budget amendment and expect me to vote on it without the chance to read it. If these “complaints” are another way of trying to silence my voice on the budget issue, it’s not going to work.

The Appropriations process is often a painful one for legislators. A lot of effort goes into the drafting of a bill, the hearing process, securing the votes and getting the bill to the point of enactment. Then, if there is a cost to the proposal, it must go to the Appropriations Table and compete with all other bills with fiscal notes. In a year when money is not abundant, it is inevitable that many bills will die.

When I take bills of mine through any committee, I expect the members to ask difficult questions. That’s their job and it is my job to be prepared to answer them. Do senators really consider it an “abuse” for us to inquire how they might suggest we fund their proposals, especially senators who have rejected the possibility of additional revenues in the budget?

Sen. Tom Sawyer misspeaks when he reports that I said there would be no money for his bill. I said there might be little money for any bills. We have been asking all members similar questions because we feel members should not be left with unrealistic expectations.

Two particular hearings were mentioned in your article. One was on the Domestic Violence bill, a truly significant piece of legislation. Sen. Mary Small, a strong supporter of this bill and a real professional, had a ready and rational response to our inquiry. No problem. Following that hearing a gentleman stopped me in the hall to compliment me on how it had gone. Members of the public had come, at some personal risk, to tell us their compelling stories of how domestic violence had affected their lives. He said a number of those speakers had expressed to him their appreciation for the committee’s close attention and for the sensitivity and respect with which they had been treated.

Sen. Sawyer has brought forward a bill that would provide additional services for a constituency with a clear and compelling need. I found it quite convincing. I marvel at what many Maine families are struggling with to maximize opportunities for their blind and visually impaired children. All the more reason to explore how we could manage to fund this given the senator’s support for $13 million in additional budget spending without additional revenues. I would love to find a way to support this bill and I will need his help.

Surely legislators do not think that their words and votes on the third floor should be irrelevant to their funding request on the second floor. That has to do with fiscal reality and nothing to do with “revenge.” I guarantee that neither Rep. Randall Berry nor I will ever stand by and see anyone mistreated in our committee room. But to sit quietly, smile and thank everyone for their fine proposals without helping the public understand the kind of choices we will be required to make in a month or so is an abuse – of the public and of the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Jill Goldthwait of Bar Harbor is co- chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs.

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