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Political Brew: State of the budget, lawmaker indictment, and another campus shooting

This week's analysts are Democratic activist Betsy Sweet, former state senator, and Yarmouth town councilor Phil Harriman.

MAINE, USA — Governor Janet Mills proposed a new two-year budget, and questions about gun control in the wake of another mass shooting generated lots of talk between Political Brew analysts Phil Harriman and Betsy Sweet.

Mills' budget address to the Legislature outlined many of the spending priorities in her $10.3 billion proposed budget. Harriman, a Republican, said the size of the budget increase is worrisome.

"This budget is $1 billion more than the last one. That's a tremendous amount of money that's going to be put into the system -new services and bureaucracies reinforced to provide those services- and at some point, the money will start to dry up, and we will have struggles to maintain services."

Sweet, a Democrat, said he thinks the budget plan could have gone further than it does. She cited issues such as affordable housing that need more government help.

"To me, what was missing is we have money; we have a majority; I would have liked to see a more creative and innovative way to look at some of these intractable problems. I think it was a steady the ship budget."

Not surprisingly, the two disagreed on the Republican response that income taxes should be reduced instead of increasing state spending.

"There should be some tax relief," said Harriman. "As ( the Governor) said… the rainy day fund is full, we have a billion more than projected, if there is ever a time for a tax rate reduction, it's now."

He added that tax cuts are unlikely to happen because Republicans are in the minority.

Sweet argued the needs are too great to cut taxes now.

"What are we going to take it from? It is raining for so many people, homeless people, people with mental health, and schools, and we can't get workers for anything because we aren't reimbursing enough. To say let's do tax cuts at a time when the median income is doing OK in Maine doesn't make sense to me."

On National issues, both agreed the entry of Nikki Haley into the GOP presidential race might encourage those who dislike former President Trump but that it remains to be seen if she can generate enough support.

The latest mass shooting at Michigan State University again raised the question of more controls on guns.

"We know in other countries it does make a difference," said Sweet, "and shame on us. There have been more mass shootings than days on the calendar this year."

Phil Harriman agreed there needs to be changes but said the immediate need is enforcing current gun laws.

"It's time for us to have a fresh look at how you get access to a gun and where they line up with existing laws and whether we are enforcing those laws, which we are not."

Betsy Sweet argued that gun rights activists typically derail those discussions in Maine.

"In Maine, it's tough to have those discussions because the minute you say anything, talk about enforcing current laws even, then it oh you're anti-gun, you'll never get reelected. It's not about taking people's guns away. It's about keeping them safe, background checks, and safe storage. And those conversations are difficult to have."

"You won't hear responsible gun owners in Maine say we shouldn't enforce or discuss gun laws," countered Harriman. "They want those laws enforced."

Sweet had the last word in the discussion: "it's not the gun owners; it's the politicians."

Political Brew airs Sundays on NEWS CENTER Maine's Weekend Morning Report.

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