Gov. Janet Mills delivered her first State of the State address Tuesday night, recognizing the sacrifices of first responders, the contributions of immigrants and calling for better opportunities for all Mainers through an expanded workforce.
Using the theme “Maine is not Washington,” Mills talked about the ongoing need for access to affordable health care, touted the growth of the state economy and asked lawmakers to fully fund the second year of the higher education budget cut last spring.
“These institutions of higher learning cannot withstand rising costs without the prospects of higher tuition, and higher tuition is the last thing our students need. The average Maine college graduate in 2018 owed more than $32,600 in student loans, the eighth highest student loan burden in the country,” she said.
Mills said Maine needs to simplify debt relief programs such as the educational opportunity tax credit to help more graduates retire their debt, and boost the Educators for Maine Loan Forgiveness program to encourage young teachers to work in underserved areas.
University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy applauded the governor’s call.
“There is no better investment a state can make to grow its workforce and wages and attract new industry and private investment,” Malloy said.
Restoring the proposed 3% budget increase next year would provide an additional $5 million in support of the university system.
Mills took a moment to recognize Hilary Campbell, the wife of Detective Ben Campbell of Millinocket who was killed in a freak accident while he was assisting a stranded motorist on Interstate 95 in Hampden last year.
In addition to his wife, Campbell also left behind a young son, and Mills said she wants to honor Campbell’s memory.
“In Detective Ben Campbell’s name, I ask this body to enact legislation this session to increase the state’s benefit for the families of our fallen first responders,” she said. “The current benefit is shamefully inadequate to the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the line of duty. We ask so much of the men and women who answer the call to service. Let us be there for their families in times of need. It is a simple thing to do. The right thing to do. We can do it, because we are Maine, not Washington.”
And in honor of Capt. Michael Bell, the firefighter who was killed responding to a gas explosion in Farmington in September, Mills said she would create a scholarship fund for young people to train in fire suppression. She also pledged to support legislation to boost retirement benefits for firefighters and EMS workers.