There is now less than a week to go before the end of the session, leaders of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee- the budget writing committee have been working through some of the more substantive and contentious pieces of the governor’s supplemental budget proposal throughout the week.
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee agreed on a budget early Friday morning that will send $850 relief checks to 850,000 eligible Mainers, the House and Senate Democrats announced in a 3 a.m. press release.
In a unanimous agreement, the committee of eight Democrats and five Republicans came to terms on a budget that allocates about $1 billion in surplus state revenues. The budget must now be approved by the full House and Senate and Governor Janet Mills.
Votes are expected in the coming days, with just three days left in the legislative session.
If passed as written, the relief checks will be sent to full-time Maine residents who have incomes of up to $100,000 if filing single or if married and filing separately; up to $150,000 if filing as head of household and up to $200,000 for couples filing jointly.
Other budget highlights include a permanent expansion of a property tax fairness credit, an increase in the earned income tax credit, a trust to address the PFAS contamination affecting Maine farms, money for Maine’s lobstering industry and two years of free community college for high school students in the 2020 through 2023 graduating classes.
In addition, the budget earmarks money for nursing homes, increased wages for direct care workers and $25 million for Maine hospitals.
Although the budget keeps many of the investments proposed by Mills, it does not add $10 million to the state’s rainy day fund. The fund will remain at $492 million, the highest it’s been in state history, according to the Democrats.
Governor Janet Mills unveiled her first supplemental budget proposal in March and then revised it when the revenue forecast was increased later last month. The centerpiece is Mills’ proposal to return half of the $1.2 billion surplus to eligible taxpayers to help them cope with inflation, which has been at a 40-year high.
More than 200 bills already approved by lawmakers are awaiting funding approval from the appropriations committee. Those bills, which by some estimates represent nearly $2 billion in new spending, are competing for $20 million left unallocated in Mills’ budget proposal. More funding could be freed up for more of those bills, but it would require cuts elsewhere in the budget proposal. Any bill not funded by the end of the session would be considered dead.
Senator Cathy Breen, Chair of the Appropriations Committee said the Committee will likely try to identify bills that have strongest, unanimous support among the parties in both chambers and include some of those in the committee’s budget proposal. Then, she said they will divvy up any remaining revenue among the four caucuses – two for each party in each chamber – to fund other bills.
In lean budget years few if any of those bills get funded. But last year, each caucus got $2 million each, for a total of $8 million, which was one of the biggest pools in recent memory
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