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Maine Municipal Leaders Say Proposed Stimulus Doesn't Meet Needs Of State, Local Governments

Rebecca Conley
Maine Public file
The State House in Augusta in Dec. 2018.

If approved, the stimulus deal reached in Washington this weekend will provide more money to schools, direct payments to people and extended unemployment benefits for those out of work. But one significant provision appears to have been left out: funding to local and state governments.

That has disappointed some municipal officials in Maine, who say more money is needed as they face serious budget deficits caused by the pandemic.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder says she was pleased to see the sheer breadth of funding priorities that were included in the relief bill that’s expected to be signed in Washington over the next few days: there was rental assistance, a one-month extension to a federal eviction moratorium and even funding for arts venues, which have been hurt badly by restrictions on in-person events.

“And of course, efforts to get the vaccine out there. So I think there’s a lot to be encouraged by, and I’m very, very happy,” she says.

But Snyder notes one important provision that wasn’t included: funding for states and local municipalities. Across Maine, cities and towns are facing budget holes caused by steep drop-offs in revenues during the pandemic. In Portland, the city was forced to cut more than 60 positions in September as taxes, parking and cruise ship revenue all plummeted.

“It will be important for people to understand that that’s our reality. So as we go into the FY22 budget, there are real considerations with regard to how the city’s budget will fare,” she says.

“I’ve been a city manager for 40 years, and this is the most difficult, daunting challenge I have coped with in that period of time,” says Augusta City Manager Bill Bridgeo.

Bridgeo says his city has already cut 32 positions this year. It’s a similar story across the state: an August survey from the Maine Municipal Association projects that local governments will lose $146 million in revenue in 2020. That comes on top of more than $24 million in additional pandemic-related expenses.

Bridgeo is also worried that if the state government doesn’t receive federal financial assistance, its own pandemic-related shortfall, projected at more than half a billion dollars — could potentially mean that less school funding will trickle down to his municipality. Unless the situation changes, Bridgeo says some services will likely be limited for the foreseeable future.

“Until the economy rebounds, we’re going to be hard-pressed to restore quality-of-life services in Augusta,” he says. “Like a full library staff, parks and recreation programming, deferred capital purchases — equipment and so forth.”

Many federal lawmakers, including Maine’s entire legislative delegation, have repeatedly pushed for more state and local assistance in recent months. And President-elect Joe Biden says he does plan to push for more local government aid as well, but that won’t come until he takes office next month.