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Janet Mills Proposes $127 Million Supplemental Budget

Gov. Janet Mills on Monday unveiled a nearly $127 million supplemental spending plan for the next 18 months as well as a significant bonding package.

The largest item is $37 million more for local school subsidies, with other money for Mills’ other priorities. Republicans were quick to respond to the governor. They say both the spending proposal and the borrowing plan are too big and have the wrong priorities.

Maine Public senior political reporter Mal Leary spoke with All Things Considered host Nora Flaherty about the plan.

Flaherty: It sounds like we are in for a political battle in spite of the talk of bipartisanship over the last few weeks.

Leary: We really are. It’s a continuation of the disagreements in spending priorities that we saw last year. Many of the governor’s spending proposals are for items that didn’t make the budget last year or get funding in a bond. Items like cleanup of hazardous waste sites, wastewater treatment grants, upgrades for the state’s armories, replacement of forest fire fighting equipment, capital equipment for the career and technical education centers, additional money for the state’s higher education facilities, and on and on. It’s tens of millions of dollars in additional spending that the governor wants that basically she didn’t get last year.

More spending is not what Republicans want. So can they block this additional spending?

Well, first, I’d say that Republicans would support some additional spending, but their priorities are much different. Their big concern is even with the additional $20 million that the governor wants to put into the rainy day fund, it should be larger. They point to economic unknowns, like the impact of the coronavirus, and want more money set aside. The reason a lot of items failed last year was the leverage the Republicans had to pass the two-year state budget. It needed a two-thirds vote as do bond proposals that were defeated. The supplemental budget only need’s a majority, so the leverage the Republicans have is on bonds.

Could we see then some old-fashioned political horse trading? Like fewer budget items for Republican bond votes?

Well, that’s really how politics works, isn’t it? The governor has proposed $10 million in cash for transportation repairs and upgrades and a $100 million bond. She also wants a $15 million bond for broadband, and a bond for land for means future and repairs for state parks of $65 million.

They need Republican votes to send any of those bond proposals to the voters for their approval. And that’s where you’re going to see the Republicans try to use their leverage.

What’s next for all these proposals?

Well, the Appropriations Committee will hold public hearings for several weeks and try to get as much agreement as they can on both spending and borrowing. This session is supposed to end by mid April, so the pressure will be building to reach some compromises. But whether that happens is the question in this election year.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Originally published Feb. 3, 2020, at 4:04 p.m. ET.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.
Nora is originally from the Boston area but has lived in Chicago, Michigan, New York City and at the northern tip of New York state. Nora began working in public radio at Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor and has been an on-air host, a reporter, a digital editor, a producer, and, when they let her, played records.