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State, Municipal Officials Seek Federal Aid To Stay Afloat

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
The House gallery is vacant during the legislative session in the House Chamber at the State House, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

Without more relief aid from Congress, government services that the public depends on could be seriously reduced or eliminated. That’s the message coming from state and local municipal officials, and from national labor leaders.

With huge numbers of Americans out of work due to the pandemic, revenues from state income tax and sales tax are down. State Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash, says other sources of state funding are slumping as well.

“At this point we are looking at over a $50 million loss in the highway fund. That is clearly COVID-19 related,” he says.

And the drop in state revenue means that cities and towns are receiving less through revenue sharing. City Manager Jon Jennings says Portland is seeing a loss of revenue from cruise ship visits, excise taxes and from property owners asking for tax abatements because of their personal loss of income.

“We have taken measures to furlough some of our staff, like the nonessential staff that would be working on events, opening Merrill Auditorium,” he says.

Jennings says Portland and other Maine cities and towns have been hurt by a provision in federal legislation that only provides direct aid to municipalities with a population of more than half a million residents. The aid measures have already allocated about $1.2 billion to Maine, but only for COVID-19 related expenditures, not lost revenues.

Lee Saunders is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest public-sector union in the country. He says without more flexibility and a significant new package of assistance, states and local governments will be forced to lay off first responders and health care workers who are now on the front lines of the pandemic.

“This is to provide direct public services. We need people not only to send letters in support, but we need their active voice, particularly senators,” he says.

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation are calling for increased aid to boost the U.S. economy, and there are many proposals being floated for another round of assistance. House Democrats have just put forward a $3 trillion plan, which was rejected by Republicans as a “liberal wish list.”