- Associated Press - Monday, May 20, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine lawmakers look set to finish budget talks soon and seem likely to avoid the contentious negotiations that led to a three-day shutdown under a divided government in 2017.

The House chair of the Legislature’s joint appropriations committee said the body aims to finish its work this week. A relatively quick budget process would stand in stark contrast to previous years’ tense negotiations but would not be a complete surprise given that Democrats now control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion.

“This is a less complicated budget than we’ve done in the past,” Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine said. “We don’t want it hanging over our head and be in this type of situation we’ve been in the past.”

Lawmakers will need two-thirds approval in both chambers to pass the budget.

Gov. Janet Mills proposed an $8 billion two-year budget. That’s an 11% increase over $7.2 billion budget running through June.

Mills recently proposed sending $20 million of expected increased tax revenues into the rainy day fund. Republicans had requested such a move but have also criticized Mills’ budget for increasing spending too much.

Some Democrats have called for property tax relief that would be achieved by levying other kinds of taxes, and a liberal advocacy group wants lawmakers to roll back tax cuts benefiting the wealthy that were passed under the former Republican governor.

But Mills - whose proposal doesn’t include a tax hike - has vowed to pass a budget without a tax increase.

If the Legislature passes Mills’ proposal, that will leave $16.5 million in surplus revenue available for lawmakers to spend as they see fit, according to her office.

Gattine said Democrats’ priorities this session are health care, education, the environment and property tax relief.

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