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Mills supports returning money to taxpayers, but cautiously

Maine State House
Robert F. Bukaty
The Maine State House is framed by spruce trees in Capitol Park, Friday, Dec. 10, 2010, in Augusta, Maine. Gov.-elect Paul LePage's transition team are working on a two-year state budget package. The Republican governor-elect promised a restructuring of state government during his campaign to eliminate waste and promote efficiency. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Gov. Janet Mills reiterated Tuesday that she supports returning some of the state's projected surplus to Maine taxpayers but has yet to endorse a specific proposal.

The governor also said she prefers a cautious approach as the pandemic drags on.

The nonprofit Revenue Forecasting Committee that analyzes how much money is flowing into Maine's treasury recently increased its projection by $822 million, a jump of nearly 10%. Committee members warned that the projections could change significantly, however, based on how the COVID-19 pandemic affects the state and national economy. Deciding what to do with any potential surplus is expected to be a major focus of the 2022 legislative session that formally kicks off on Wednesday. And there is bipartisan support for sending a portion of that projected surplus back to Maine residents – in some fashion.

Speaking to reporters in Portland on Tuesday afternoon, Mills said she supports returning some money to taxpayers.

“How to do that will be a topic of discussion in the coming days and weeks,” said Mills, who served on the budget-writing committee during her time in the Legislature. But Mills added: "I know that this pandemic can change things abruptly, change things dramatically and it can affect our economy in the weeks and months and years to come. So I want to be very cautious about what we do and how much we depend on the revenue projections in this early stage."

Under a budget agreement negotiated between Democrats and Republicans last year, the Mills administration sent $285 checks to more than 500,000 Mainers who worked during the pandemic. Another round of direct payments is one option that will be on the table during negotiations. Some Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, want to use the projected surplus to cut taxes. And there will be significant demand to allocate additional money to other needs, such as addressing the shortage of health care workers and bolstering the state’s response to the deadly opioid crisis.

Mills plans to submit a supplemental budget to the Legislature this month but has yet to provide any early details about her proposals for using the additional revenue.