The Mills administration has submitted its proposal for spending nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars to the Legislature. The Legislature will now review the spending plan Governor Janet Mills announced a month ago.
Maine is expected to receive about $4.5 billion from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congress along party lines in March as a way to stimulate the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Roughly $3.5 billion of that total will go to pandemic response, unemployment benefits, stimulus payments to individuals, relief payments to businesses or to town and county governments.
Governor Mills has proposed dividing state government’s $997.5 million share among three target areas: $258.4 million for short-term economic recovery programs, $294.5 million for long-term economic initiatives, and $418 million for infrastructure improvements.
The funding would be used for everything from economic recovery grants for businesses to hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband expansion, energy efficiency upgrades and capital improvements at state parks, state-run fish hatcheries and wastewater treatment plants.
Governor Mills unveiled some of the plan on May 4 but the details submitted to lawmakers this week were fine-tuned based on guidance from the U.S. Treasury. Most of the expenditures were intended to be pilot projects or one-time investments to avoid ongoing spending obligations based, in large part, on the recommendations of a state economic recovery committee and a 10-year economic development plan.
The meeting was the Appropriation and Financial Affairs committee’s first presentation on the nearly $1 billion plan and came less than two weeks before the Legislature’s statutory adjournment date of June 16, 2021.
The dozens of initiatives contained in the plan include:
- $21 million to expand broadband internet access, to be supplemented by $129 million in additional federal money earmarked for broadband infrastructure;
- $80 million in grants and loans to businesses still struggling from the pandemic;
- $105 million for career and technical education, workforce programs and higher education initiatives;
- $50 million to prop up Maine’s three “heritage industries” of fishing, farming and forestry;
- $80 million to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund and avoid a potential 60 percent increase in unemployment taxes on businesses because of pandemic-related expenditures;
- $5 million for a “remote worker welcome program,” to retain people who moved to Maine during the pandemic and lure more remote workers;
- $50 million to repair roads and bridges;
- $50 million to upgrade buildings, roads, shelters and other infrastructure at Maine state parks.
An additional $22 million of the total will go toward administration, tracking and the reporting required by the federal government.
Legislators on the Appropriations committee face a large task, as it is now crunch time, to review the plan as well as a mid-budget change package submitted by the Mills administration. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn by June 16 and every day until then is occupied with House and Senate floor sessions, leaving the Appropriations committee with little uninterrupted time to review the $1 billion spending plan.
Several committee members expressed concerns about the late timing of the stimulus spending plan.