Budget writers advance Janet Mills' gaming deal with tribes, but doom sovereignty bill

Apr. 22—AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature's budget panel advanced Gov. Janet Mills' tribal gaming compromise on Friday, but declined to fund a broader bill to grant Maine tribes more autonomy that the governor opposed, effectively dooming its passage this year.

Members of the Legislature's appropriations committee convened on Friday to consider funding more than 200 bills that had received initial approval from lawmakers but would require a share of the $12 million left unallocated in the Democratic governor's supplemental budget, which passed this week.

Among the bills on the table were several concerning tribal issues, including a bill to give tribes control over sports betting that Mills' administration had helped negotiate, and more sweeping sovereignty legislation the governor opposed that would have overhauled the 1980 land-claims settlement that allows Maine to treat tribes as similar to municipalities.

Tribal leaders said this week that Mills' administration had indicated she could veto both pieces of legislation if the sovereignty bill made it to her desk. On Friday, the committee moved forward with the gaming bill, which Mills and the tribes negotiated. It would give the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Maliseet tribes control of online sports betting in Maine, but the measure had received some pushback from casinos.

The committee did not fund the broader sovereignty bill, which was estimated to cost the state $44,650 in general fund dollars for the 2022-23 budget year due to decreased sales and income tax collections, and greater amounts in later years. That effectively ensures the bill dies this session in the Legislature rather than going to Mills' desk.

Mills vowed when entering office to work to improve Maine's relationship with the tribes. Tribal leaders have been supportive of the sports betting bill, as well as a bill to allow the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik to regulate its water supply that Mills signed this week, but had made the larger sovereignty bill a priority.