Republican lawmakers back $850 one-time checks but without income cap
Republican lawmakers want to send one-time payments to more Maine taxpayers and are calling for a weekend-long sales tax holiday in October as part of their list of priorities for an estimated $1.2 billion revenue surplus.
Republican leaders released a list of priorities on Wednesday as the Legislature’s budget-writing committee works to finalizes its work on the spending plan. At the top of the list: Republicans agree with Democratic Gov. Janet Mills' proposal to send one-time checks of $850 to most Mainers. But unlike Mills, Republicans want those checks sent to all income tax filers in the state, regardless of how much money they earn. Mills has proposed limiting the rebates to individuals who make less than $75,000 or to couples who earn less than $150,000.
The state sent $285 rebate checks last fall to more than 500,000 Mainers who worked during the pandemic but whose incomes fell below those amounts. Eliminating the income cap would make an additional 120,000 Maine taxpayers eligible for the $850 checks and add roughly $100 million to the price tag. Mills’ proposal would utilize one-half of the estimated $1.2 billion surplus, or $682 million, to send checks to roughly 800,000 Maine residents.
Republican lawmakers also support providing a pay increase to direct care and long-term care workers to 125% of the minimum wage – something that Mills has also proposed – as well as providing one-time supplemental payments to hospitals and long-term care facilities. In other areas of agreement with Mills and Democrats, Republicans support using part of the surplus to prevent the imminent closure of Maine Veterans Homes in Caribou and Machias as well as devoting additional funds to the state’s effort to address pollution with the so-called “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.
But Republicans are also calling for a weekend sales tax holiday in October and are reiterating calls to eliminate the 100-megawatt cap on hydroelectric facilities within Maine’s renewable energy portfolio. Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage pushed unsuccessfully to lift the cap for years as part of a push to import more electricity from Hydro-Quebec.
In supporting the one-time checks of $850, Republicans are backing off their push for using part of the surplus to reduce Maine’s income tax. Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature, had expressed little interest in such a proposal given the longer-term impact on revenue flows to the state. The summary of priorities released by the Republican legislative offices on Wednesday also contains no mention of a proposed suspension of the 30 cents per-gallon tax on gasoline, which LePage and some Republican lawmakers have advocated.
Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee have been meeting for weeks to complete work on a supplemental budget for the projected surplus. The Legislature is slated to adjourn in mid-April.