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Mills is open to energy relief ideas, but worries about an economic slowdown

A gas pump in Yarmouth, Maine on March 10, 2022. Prices nationwide have surged in the last week to more than $4 per gallon.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
Maine Public
A gas pump in Yarmouth, Maine on March 10, 2022. Prices nationwide have surged in the last week to more than $4 per gallon.

Gov. Janet Mills is signaling that she remains open to ideas from lawmakers to help Mainers cope with record-high gas and heating oil prices.

Maine’s Democratic governor has proposed using half of a surplus to send $750 checks to more than 800,000 Mainers to help them cover rising costs. Lawmakers are currently considering those “relief checks” as well as other proposals for divvying up the projected $1.2 billion revenue surplus.

On Thursday, Mills spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said the governor “applauds lawmakers on both sides of the aisle” for offering other options for addressing energy costs and inflation, adding that and that she is “committed to working with lawmakers.” Those include a proposal from Republican Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn to suspend Maine's 30-cent tax on every gallon of gasoline for the remainder of the year and Senate President Troy Jackson's idea of rebates for electricity ratepayers. Jackson and other Democrats outlined his still-developing plan – which would provide $1,000 rebates to some residential electric ratepayers and $2,500 rebates to businesses with high energy usage – as well as other proposals during a press conference at the State House on Wednesday.

“In the meantime, the governor has proposed giving back half the surplus to Maine people through $750 checks,” Crete said. “For an average Maine family, with two adults, this proposal is estimated to provide $1,500 in direct relief. Another benefit of delivering relief in this way is that it provides Maine people with the freedom to decide for themselves how best to use the money, whether it be for groceries, gas, heating fuel, electricity, or other expenses. The Governor is very open to considering increasing these payments to help Maine people cope with higher costs.”

But the governor’s office also signaled concerns about the energy crisis’ impact on the economy.

“The Mills Administration expects that, because of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, costs – particularly for oil and gas – will continue to increase, which will cause Maine people to shift their spending habits to focus more on necessities, reducing overall spending in the economy, and likely slowing Maine’s economy recovery in the short-term,” Crete said.

The committee that advises the executive branch and the Legislature’s budget-writers on revenue flows into state coffers have cautioned that the ongoing pandemic and other factors add to the uncertainty of those forecasts over the longer term.