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Maine Democrats Tout ‘Transformational’ $1B Spending Plan, Mills Urges Bipartisan Agreement To Expedite It

Janet Mills
David Sharp
Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks to reporters in her cabinet room, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Augusta, Maine, after announcing she has vetoed a bill to replace the state's privately owned electric utilities with a consumer-owned utility.

Democrats in the Maine Legislature are describing a $983 million spending bill as a transformational investment in businesses, workers, affordable housing, and health care. But Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is urging budget writers to reach a bipartisan agreement that will advance that funding sooner.

The proposal passed by majority Democrats on the budget committee late Wednesday utilizes one-time, undesignated funding from the American Rescue Plan for an array of initiatives.

Republicans and Democrats agree on 97% of the bill, but GOP members balked at two items in particular: $1 million for a state commission on tribal and racial equity and language that would require project labor agreements, or PLAs, for $20 million worth of affordable housing renovations or new construction.

GOP members ok'd the spending allocation, but they rejected the inclusion of PLA requirements, which essentially guarantee union workers will be used in a project.

Democratic Rep. Teresa Pierce, of Falmouth, is the co-chairwoman of the budget committee and she says both provisions are consistent with the goal of the American Rescue Plan.

"And I hope we'll get to a point where we can highlight the many, many other things that are going on in this bill that are going to directly help our businesses, which are still trying to recover from the pandemic, catapult us forward for economic growth for our workforce and rebuild our infrastructure through our university system, our community college system. I mean, there's just a lot of great stuff in here," she said.

But the snag with the GOP could delay enactment of the spending bill for 90 days.

In a statement released Thursday, Gov. Mills urged budget writers to reach a consensus so that the bill can go into effect immediately.

"Every day that passes where this bill is not law is one more day that we aren’t putting these transformational investments to work for Maine people," Mills said. "If we allow three more months to pass simply because we couldn’t find consensus, then that could mean the difference between a business surviving or failing, between a parent being able to afford child care so they can go back to work or not, between expanding broadband to rural communities or not. The stakes are high. The implications are real."

Democratic budget writers say they're open to compromise, but changes - if any - will likely be made when the Legislature votes on Monday.

The governor could line-item veto certain provision in the bill, but only spending items.