Majority Democrats in the Maine Legislature voted late Wednesday to advance their plan to spend nearly $1 billion in federal COVID-19 aid, breaking with Republicans who voted to endorse a smaller proposal.
The legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee’s vote paved the way for the Democratic proposal to pass the Legislature on Monday, but the lack of a bipartisanship would prevent any package from going immediately into law after being signed by Governor Janet Mills, meaning it will take at least three months for the money provided under the latest $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill to become available.
Governor Mills put forward a $1.1 billion plan for the aid in May, including more than a half-billion dollars for infrastructure and broadband, plus another $260 billion for short-term aid to businesses. But the package changed in recent days as criteria for disbursing the aid tightened relative to earlier estimates, reducing the amount of money available to lawmakers.
The end result on Wednesday was a $983 million package from legislative Democrats that omitted $50 million in transportation funding that was put into the state budget earlier this year. Other items were reduced to account for the topline change, but the majority party also decided to make late additions, including $1 million for a state commission on racial and tribal equity.
Republicans endorsed a slightly smaller proposal, omitting the late items from Democrats. The minority party also opposed a Democratic item to set aside $20 million of an agreed-upon $50 million for affordable housing projects.
The aid was part of a raft of federal money that kept budgets afloat in Maine and across the nation during the pandemic. A massive upward projection in state revenue led Governor Mills and the Legislature to approve a $8.5 billion, two-year budget in late June that replaced a party-line spending roadmap advanced by Democrats in March.