AUGUSTA – A legislative committee endorsed an emergency bill Wednesday that would allow school districts to spend unexpected state funds without holding referendums to get voters’ approval.

The $6.3 billion, two-year state budget that lawmakers approved Wednesday includes an extra $29 million for schools, but voters in most districts have already approved school budgets for the year starting July 1.

Under state law, districts would have to open the polls again to get voters’ approval to spend the extra money.

Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, introduced a bill, L.D. 1566, to create a one-time exemption from the school budget referendum process.

“While I certainly understand that this is a good problem for (school districts) to have, we can help them put these much-needed funds to work sooner and without additional financial burdens,” said Millett, the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee.

Under Millett’s bill, a school board could approve the use of the additional money by holding a public meeting and having residents vote at that meeting. A district also could use the referendum process.

The committee endorsed the bill, 10-2.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan spoke in favor of the bill Wednesday, saying it would cost Portland as much as $12,000 to open the polls.

Votes on the bill were pending Wednesday night in the House and Senate. 

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