Maine governor’s biennial budget tops $10 billion | lifestyle

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Democratic Gov. Janet Mills unveiled a two-year, $10.3 billion budget proposal Wednesday that builds on her previous priorities without raising taxes or attacking state reserves.

The proposal, which represents a $900 million increase over the last budget, maintains the state’s commitment to pay 55% of local education costs, provide free lunches to all public school students and provide free community college tuition for recent high school graduates.

It also includes extra money for workforce housing, healthcare, childcare and support for people with disabilities.

“This budget is balanced. It doesn’t raise taxes. It fully funds a number of initiatives with legislation that is law,” she told reporters during a briefing. “And it leaves the rainy day fund intact at its record high level of more than $900 million.”

The budget proposal tops $10 billion for the first time — Mills’ previous base budget was $9.4 billion — sparking a battle with Republicans who have announced they want to cut taxes.

The governor’s budget proposal includes $400 million for the Department of Transportation with the goal of drawing in a much, much larger amount of federal dollars, up to $1 billion, under the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Mills said.

The proposal also includes $30 million to support rental housing, especially in rural areas, $27 million to support people with disabilities and $15 million for foster care and adoption, she said. The governor has not proposed new funding for additional child welfare workers because the state currently fills 60 positions, including some new positions funded in the previous budget, she said.

The plan also includes $17 million to boost legal services for low-income Mainers. Some of that money could be used to double the number of public defenders in the pilot program, she said.

Legislative Republicans said Wednesday that the governor should cut taxes, as evidenced by recent refunds.

The governor returned $729 million to residents last year in $850 inflation relief checks and another $473 million in $450 heating assistance checks to be sent out later this month.

“We have to stop the cycle of overcharging people. Current revenue projections allow us to explore ways to allow people to keep more of their hard-earned money to address inflation,” House and Senate Republicans said in a statement.

The governor has said in the past that she does not want to commit to either significant spending increases or permanent tax cuts because the budget surpluses were the result of one-time benefits from federal pandemic aid.

Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, but Republicans signaled last month that they would not be swept.

Two years ago, Democrats pushed through a “core” budget with a simple majority to avoid any threat of a state budget shutdown while they worked on a second, supplemental budget.

The move angered Republicans.

Mills said she envisions this budget passing by a two-thirds majority with bipartisan cooperation. Republicans have also indicated a willingness to work with the governor.

Senate President Troy Jackson said the governor’s budget proposal “gives the Legislature a good place to start.”


Follow David Sharp on Twitter @David_Sharp_AP

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