Gov. Janet Mills at Sebago Brewing Co., in Gorham during a tour on March 10. On Friday, the governor updated her supplemental budget proposal to include $850 direct payments to Maine taxpayers earning less than $75,000 a year, or less than $150,000 for households. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mainers would get another $100 each under a revised budget proposal released by Gov. Janet Mills Friday, bringing the total amount of direct relief checks that would be distributed to residents from the state’s estimated $1.2 billion budget surplus to $850 each.

The governor’s change package, which must be approved by the Legislature, is intended to help Mainers in the face of record inflation and rising oil and gas prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mills said.

Under the governor’s proposal, the $850 checks would go to taxpayers who earn less than $75,000 as individuals or $150,000 as a household, a group of about 800,000 people that includes those relying on social security or retirement income, the self-employed and certain business owners.

If approved as a part of the supplemental budget, checks would start being issued on July 1.

“Inflation and increased oil and gas prices resulting from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine are hitting Maine people hard,” the governor said in a statement. “This proposal will help Maine people grapple with these increased costs by putting money directly back into their pockets.

“From direct relief to investments in behavioral health, this revised budget proposal helps Maine people through this difficult time, tackles pressing problems and lays the foundation for strong economic growth.”

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The administration will present its proposed budget changes to the appropriations committee on Monday.

In her State of the State address, Mills proposed returning half the state’s surplus to Maine taxpayers with $500 direct checks. She upped that to $750 checks on March 1 after the state revenue forecasting committee increased the projected surplus from $822 million to $1.2 billion.

INFLATION TO COST AVERAGE MAINER $560

The average Maine resident will spend over $560 more because of inflation this year than in 2021, including an extra $260 at the grocery store and $300 for gas and home heating oil, according to the Office of the State Economist. Rising prices have lawmakers scrambling to find ways to help Mainers cope.

The governor’s new proposal would return $1,700 in relief to the average Maine household.

Mills has pitched her direct checks proposal as bipartisan, saying the plan is consistent with the calls of Republican lawmakers to return surplus revenues to the people. However, Republican lawmakers have said she should consider cutting tax rates and other moves that would provide longer-term relief.

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Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is seeking an unprecedented third, nonconsecutive term as governor, took aim at Mills’ proposal Friday and renewed his calls for a permanent income tax cut and a temporary gas tax holiday in a written statement.

“No one is confused, Janet Mills is spending one-time, funny money to prop up massive overspending,” LePage said. “Mills waiting months to send funny money checks to voters is clearly an election year gimmick and smacks of using the state’s piggybank for her own campaign.”

He blamed Mills and the Democrats for inflation, arguing that government overspending at the state and federal levels was responsible for driving up prices, not Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mills’ budget will just continue that trend and drive prices even higher, he said.

OTHER CHANGES ALSO PROPOSED

The changes to Mills’ supplemental budget plan address other issues in addition to direct checks.

Other proposed changes include:

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$19.7 million in additional spending on behavioral health
• $22 million to create an emergency housing relief fund to address homelessness
• $60 million to create a farmer relief fund to address “forever chemical” contamination
• $1.75 million to save Maine Veterans Homes in Caribou and Machias
• Increasing the proposed student debt relief annual benefit from $2,000 to $2,500
• $3.2 million to cover increasing material and supply costs at state technical education centers
• Increasing the state’s commitment to the legal defense of Maine’s lobster industry to $3 million
• $1.9 million to stabilize state funding for county jails
• $8 million more, for a total of $20 million, to be used at state lawmakers’ discretion

Some of these changes fund initiatives already working their way through the Legislature, such as the forever chemical farmers’ relief fund. Lawmakers are considering a $100 million fund; Mills wants to start with $60 million and look for federal revenues and other sources to secure long-term assistance.

But much of her proposed supplemental budget remains unchanged, including $12 million to increase the pay of childcare workers, $20 million to make community college free, and $30 million to keep the state’s commitment to cover 55 percent of public education costs.

It increases the Budget Stabilization Fund to more than $500 million, the first time in state history that the “rainy day fund” has surpassed a half billion dollars, and provides $100 million to the Department of Transportation to fix roads and bridges, Mills’ office said.


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