Gov. Janet Mills offered extensive investment in education, child care and health care, and announced a plan to provide $ 500 checks to 800,000 Maine taxpayers in an appeal to the state legislature on Thursday.
Mills delivered her first personal speech at a joint session of the legislature since the start of the 2020 pandemic. She highlighted the progress the state has made in tackling the pandemic, and expressed caution about the uncertainty ahead.
“Our presence in this hall tonight is a sign of progress, of recovery – a step forward in our march towards normalcy and stability, especially from where we were,” Mills said. “We have reached another turning point in this tortuous pandemic, a moment of hope when we welcome declining and declining hospitalizations; a warmer, brighter spring when we emerge from the cold dark winter ”.
Mills, who wore a mask throughout the appeal, made it clear that there would be no return to economic stops and restrictions from the start of the pandemic, even if she noted that the pandemic was not over.
“Last year’s emergency measures no longer serve the goals they used to and should not,” she said. “As science and trends develop, so does our reaction.”
Mills touted the state’s economic benefits and strong fiscal stance, which is partly the result of federal funding and led to a projected surplus of $ 822 million by mid-2023. However, she noted that many Maine residents are still struggling to pay for increased food and fuel costs.
Mills said she wanted to repay half of the projected surplus – $ 411 million – to about 800,000 taxpayers, issuing checks to each person for about $ 500. This is almost twice the amount of checks sent to Miners last year as part of measures to combat the pandemic.
The inspections, as well as its other proposals, must be pre-approved by the legislature. She credited “my friends through the aisle” for proposing the idea of giving taxpayers half the surplus, naming Senate minority leader Jeff Timberlake of Turner and MP Savin Milet of Waterford, both Republicans.
The latest round of $ 285 benefits received about 500,000 Maine residents who earned less than $ 75,000 as an individual or $ 150,000 as a married couple. This option, if approved by the legislature, will benefit a wider group of taxpayers, although details of eligibility were not immediately available.
Mills also promised to make high-speed Internet available to anyone who wants it by 2024 through the Office of Communications of Maine, established under bipartisan law, but did not set out a plan to get there.
After the speech, Republican leaders accused Mills of having too positive a picture of the state’s economy, saying Maine’s unemployment rate was 4.7 percent higher than neighboring New Hampshire, which is 2.6 percent. They also brought the current national inflation rate to 7.5 percent, the highest in 40 years. And they noted that Mills did not directly address the recent deaths of children and the oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The speech she gave tonight – one would think that Maine was in the most rosy place in the world,” Timberlake said in an interview with MPBN. “Tonight we haven’t heard about the problems DHHS has with children … transparency has been a real issue and I’m worried about that.”
The leader of the minority in the House of Representatives, Kathleen Dillingham from Oxford, said she was encouraged by Mills’ calls for bipartisanship. Dillingham said Mills touched on important Republican issues such as child care, labor development, education and broadband, but she said Republicans needed to know more about the governor’s proposals before they could promise support. .
“The devil lies in the details and I would love to see them more,” she said.
Mills’s 50-minute speech was interrupted almost three dozen times by applause and interrupted by laughter. She spiced up the speech with a lot of references “only to Maine”, ranging from the wisdom of foresters – “the stronger the wind, the harder the trees” – to the terrible lack of Moxie.
When it was over, Republicans gathered in Capitol halls called the address an election speech.
REPUBLICANS HEAR POMIGATOR REPRESENTATION
Mills did not address her expected rival in November, former Gov. Paul LePage, but she cited the previous administration’s refusal to issue voter-approved bonds for affordable housing for the elderly and cut back on the Drugs for the Elderly program, which has been resumed. Mills celebrated her decision to extend MaineCare’s insurance rights and she covered headlines from LePage’s term of office about labor shortages.
“The labor shortage is a serious problem,” Mills said. “It’s a problem I’ve inherited, but I won’t leave it to our grandchildren.”
Although she did not mention it, LePage did not hesitate to show her address and track record for the first term. He issued a response calling himself a job creator and accusing her of using federal “ridiculous money” to “describe her inability to run the Maine economy”.
“Tonight, Janet Mills delivered her campaign speech in a building full of political insiders,” he said in a statement. “This is suitable for a person who was born and raised in politics. Instead of working to completely eliminate income tax in Maine, as I suggested, Janet Mills promises more and more costs. ”
Mills offered a particularly passionate defense of his vaccine mandates, which have been criticized by LePage and other Republicans. She noted that the mandates were supported by half a dozen national and local medical associations, as well as the two largest hospitals in Maine.
“And they can’t be wrong,” she said, pointing to the republican side of the island.
Mills used the word “progress” 22 times and at the end of her speech tried to use humor to dispel criticism from progressives. Using an analogy with the barn building, Mills encouraged everyone to get involved and help.
“Let’s not argue about how many nails in your gun,” she said, “or the very rich will pay for the shingles?”
Noting that the Rainy Days Fund under her administration has reached $ 500 million – the highest ever – Mills outlined a number of investments that will be in her additional budget proposal, which will be presented next week and then audited by the legislature. These include $ 50 million in state and federal funding for hospitals and nursing homes and $ 12 million in raising the salaries of child care workers.
She also proposes to create a Stabilization Fund for Education, which will include $ 30 million from the General Fund, so that the state can maintain its commitment to cover 55 percent of public education costs.
And it offers funding for universal free meals in schools and one-time funding for greenhouses built in Maine for schools for public gardens to teach children and families to grow their own food and enroll in schools for more local food.
Mills also published an offer to pay for up to two years of study at a public college for high school students affected by the pandemic. Students who graduate in 2020, 2021 and 2022, as well as those who graduate in 2023, will be eligible if they enroll as full-time students. The program will be funded by a one-time transfer to the Maine College system and will require legislative approval.
“And if you’ve already started a two-year program, we also support you,” she said. “We’ll cover the last dollar of your second year,” which means both tuition and mandatory fees are paid.
She also offered funding to “disable” study trips to the University of Maine system, but did not offer details.
The proposal of the public college provoked a mixed reaction from Republicans.
Mills also touted a bill authored by Senate Senate Minority Assistant Minority Leader Matt Puliot, a Republican, on streamlining a tax credit in Maine to help offset student debt and help attract young people to the state and keep them here.
“This law, which has received bipartisan support in the committee, is turning the program from an incomprehensible bureaucratic tax credit, accessible only to a few, into a powerful tool for reducing student debt, accessible to all,” she said. “I like it.”
OTHER PRIORITIES NOT CONDEMNED
Before her speech, Mills outlined other priorities of the session, but did not discuss them on Thursday night.
These include a bill to strengthen oversight of child protection services by increasing the resources and staffing of the child protection ombudsman, who oversees the families interacting with the system. She also suggested adding childcare workers to cover night, weekend and holiday shifts, rather than forcing existing staff who are already on the verge of burnout to work overtime.
Mills also unveiled plans to provide a one-time utility loan of $ 90 to help about 900,000 low-income families pay their utility bills, a $ 8 million program.
In addition, Mills proposed a bill on accountability of utilities, which threatens non-operating utilities with severe financial sanctions or even the possibility of forcing the sale of assets of another company or utilities owned by the consumer. This is a centrist position backed by at least two Republicans that targets unpopular utility companies without supporting a consumer-owned electricity generation campaign in Maine.
Contributing to this article is full-time writer Penelope Overton.
Gov. Mills unveils $ 20 million plan for free tuition at Maine community colleges