The Second Regular Session of the 130th Maine Legislature has been extended. Statutory adjournment was on Wednesday, but with so much work still left to do Democrats and Republicans finally agreed on the issue and have given themselves one more day to finish business for 2022, giving some life to some measures that could have otherwise failed.
The Democratic-led Legislature has advanced more than $1 billion in bills that are sitting unfunded. Most of them are on track to die with just $12 million set aside for them in the spending package signed into law by Governor Janet Mills on Wednesday.
All four party caucuses – House and Senate Democrats and House and Senate Republicans –had $3 million to spend and have been meeting privately to set priorities for the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee to consider. Each of the Legislature’s joint standing committees also has submitted its funding priorities for consideration.
The Appropriations Committee met on Friday to negotiate what bills will be funded, which needed to be done before legislators reconvene next week for their final day of session. These recommendations will be sent to the Senate for enactment when lawmakers reconvene Monday for what is expected to be the last day of the session.
The more than 200 bills that were approved by the Legislature would cost a combined $1.6 billion to implement and all were competing for a slice of the $12 million left unallocated in the supplemental budget.
As with the overall two-year budget, the chairs and lead members of the appropriations committee are doing most of their negotiating in private, then holding a public session to vote on specific elements once an agreement is reached.
The bills that were awaiting funding include those that were carried over from last year’s session, with costs ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to tens of millions. The bills represented a wide range in health care, education, social services, housing assistance and workforce development. All bond proposals were rejected, including MEMA’s bill, LD 1637, An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Provide Funds for Maine To Meet the State’s Carbon Reduction Goals by Supporting the Use of Biofuels.
Some of the bills approved by the appropriations committee needed to be amended to match any decisions to grant partial funding – something that would require additional votes in each chamber before the bills are sent to the Governor.
Governor Mills signs the $1.2 billion spending plan
On Wednesday, at a press conference in the Hall of Flags, Governor Janet Mills signed into law the $1.2 billion plan to spend the state’s budget surplus.
Just a day after winning the overwhelming support of the Legislature, Governor Janet Mills signed the supplemental budget into law.
The budget delivers $850 direct relief payments to Maine people to help with the high costs of inflation– one of the strongest relief proposals in the country. It provides tax relief to working Maine families and two years of free community college to pandemic-impacted students, among other important initiatives.
With Governor Mills’ signature, the emergency legislation takes effect immediately. At the direction of the Governor, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) will issue the payments as quickly as possible to an estimated 858,000 Maine people – with a target date of June 1, 2022 to begin delivery. The payments will be delivered via mail, which is the most reliable method of distribution, to ensure that the money is delivered without significant error.
Highlights of the supplemental budget include:
- Inflation Relief: Gives back more than half of the State’s surplus – $729.3 million – in the form of one-time $850 checks directly to an estimated 858,000 Maine people. Recipients must file a Maine individual income tax return as a full-time resident by October 31, 2022 and not be claimed as a dependent on another’s tax return. Eligible Maine people must have a Federal adjusted gross income (FAGI) of less than: $100,000 if filing single or if married and filing separately; $150,000 if filing as head of household; or $200,000 for couples filing jointly.
- Tax Break for Maine Retirees: Exempts additional Maine retirement pension from income tax, improving the deductions for residents from $10,000 to $25,000 in tax year 2022, to $30,000 in tax year 2023 and to $35,000 in tax years 2024 and beyond. Military pensions and annual social security income remain fully exempt in Maine.
- More Property Tax Relief: Provides $7 million in ongoing General Fund dollars to ensure stable housing by increasing the maximum benefit of Maine’s Property Tax Fairness Credit. An estimated 100,000 low- and middle-income property owners and renters who pay more than 4 percent of their household budgets on property taxes or rent will be eligible for a refundable tax credit valued at up to $1,000 each year, with $1,500 in maximum relief extended to seniors.
- Increased Tax Relief for Low- and Middle-Income Working Maine Families: Provides $27.6 million in ongoing General Fund dollars by increasing the value of Maine’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This increase is estimated to help 100,000 Maine people, primarily working families with incomes of less than $57,414, by increasing the maximum benefit by an average of $400 per family, bringing the total EITC benefit per family to an average of $764 per year.
- Two Years of Free Community College: Dedicates $20 million in one-time General Fund dollars to provide up to two years of free community college for all students from the high school graduating classes of 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 who enroll in a Maine community college full-time.
- Overhauls Student Loan Debt Repayment Program: Provides an annual $2,500 or up to $25,000 lifetime refundable tax credit benefit for student loan debt relief. The supplemental overhauls the Education Opportunity Tax Credit and transforms it to retire student debt for graduates and help employers to draw people from all walks of life to work and live in the State of Maine.
- Prevents Tuition Hikes Across University of Maine System: Provides nearly $8 million in one-time General Fund dollars to help the University of Maine System keep tuition flat for in-state students and provides ongoing funds for the System to invest in updating and renovating its campus buildings.
- Increases Pay for Child Care Workers and Early Childhood Educators: Provides more than $12 million in ongoing General Fund dollars to increase pay for child care workers and early childhood educators to strengthen our child care system across Maine.
- Fully Funds Free School Meals: Provides nearly $27 million in ongoing General Fund dollars, to be combined with the $10 million previously set aside by the Governor and Legislature, to fully fund universal free meals in public schools.
- Expand Children’s Health Insurance: Provides $3.2 million in General Fund dollars, which will leverage more than $9 million in Federal funding, to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, otherwise known as CHIP, to provide comprehensive coverage to an additional 40,000 Maine kids.
- Increases MaineCare Rates: Provides $30 million in ongoing support from the General Fund to fully implement updated rates for direct support worker wages, add and accelerate new cost-of-living adjustments for rates, and raise rates to be sufficient to pay direct support professionals at 125 percent of minimum wage.
- Supports Maine Hospitals and Nursing Homes: Sends $25 million in one-time funding to Maine hospitals, including $6.8 million from the General Fund, as well as $25 million in one-time funding to long-term care facilities, including $7.5 million from the General Fund.
- Tackles PFAS: Dedicates an initial $60 million in one-time General Fund dollars to capitalize a Trust Fund to Address PFAS Contamination, consistent with the intent of LD 2013 and with the goal of securing additional Federal and other sources of funding in the long-term, as well as approximately $9.3 million for PFAS mitigation.
The budget also maintains the Budget Stabilization Fund, otherwise known as the Rainy Day Fund, at $493 million.