Members debate the budget bill Tuesday during the afternoon House session at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

State lawmakers adopted a $1.2 billion supplemental budget Tuesday that included $850 checks for most Maine residents.

The House rejected three amendments and voted 119-16 in favor of the budget that was approved by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee late last week. The Senate enacted the budget with a 32-2 vote. It now heads to Gov. Janet Mills for her consideration.

Her office issued a written statement Tuesday night saying Mills is likely to sign the bill as early as Wednesday.

“Maine people are our greatest asset, and this strong, bipartisan, and fiscally responsible budget delivers for them,” Mills said. “This budget is a victory for Maine people, a victory for our economy, and a victory for our future.”

Maine is in the middle of a two-year budget cycle, which usually keeps the changes to the proposed state spending plan to a minimum. But a projected surplus created by federal funding and increased tax revenues meant the Legislature had to decide how to use an additional $1.2 billion.

Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, told fellow House members that the budget seizes the opportunity provided by the surplus to “help Mainers prosper while tackling big issues facing our communities head-on.” She emphasized the appropriations committee’s unanimous support for the proposal.


Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, left, and Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, look up at a tote board in the corner Tuesday during a vote in the morning House session at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Over the course of the last two years, this body has been a responsible, cautious steward of our state budget,” Pierce said. “As Mainers came together to weather the storm of the pandemic, we put strong financial measures in place to ensure that our communities had the resources they need.”

Fellow committee member, Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, talked about the compromises that led to the unanimous report, which “didn’t come easily,” especially agreement on what to do with the state’s unexpected and unprecedented $1.2 billion surplus.

“There is something in here for all of us, and there is also something to dislike,” he said. “The message we are sending to our population, I think, is a clear one. We took in a lot of money that we didn’t expect to get. We’re giving relief to those of you who have struggled.”

The Legislature preserved the highest-profile line item in the budget bill – the $850 check to Mainers – with the expanded income limit adopted by the committee. Under current terms, individuals who earn up to $100,000 a year and households that earn up to $200,000 a year are eligible.

The $850 direct payments, which could start going out in June, would return $729 million of the state’s surplus to 857,000 Mainers, including senior citizens and disabled residents who do not file tax returns. Check amounts have gone up along with the projected surplus, from $500 to $750 to $850.

Republicans supported the checks, insisting on calling them tax refunds, but they wanted tax cuts, too. Gov. Janet Mills took a page out of their playbook and earmarked about half of the surplus for what she initially described as COVID-19 relief checks, but has since dubbed inflation relief checks.


She has faced some criticism from progressives in her own party who wanted the surplus to be spent on the most vulnerable Mainers, either by capping the relief checks at working-class levels or funding more projects that benefit them, like affordable housing.

The three rejected House amendments included:

• a proposal by Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, to eliminate the free community college program and the electric vehicle rebate program, and reduce PFAS testing and relief funds, among other changes, in order to fund an eight-month suspension of the gas tax;

• a proposal by Rep. Sophia Warren, I-Scarborough, to reduce the amount of revenue surplus to be returned to taxpayers through $850 direct checks by $100 million to fund climate change projects;

• a proposal by Rep. Kathy Javner, R-Chester, to make cuts throughout the budget to fund a yearly cost-of-living adjustment of 4.9 percent for MaineCare reimbursement rates for center-based community support services.

These amendments were all rejected under the hammer, without roll call votes.



Rep. H. Sawin Millett Jr., R-Waterford, speaks Tuesday during debate on the budget bill in the afternoon House session at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

No amendments were entertained on the Senate side, but Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, said she could not support a budget that didn’t adequately support indigent legal services. At the current reimbursement rates, the state soon will run out of private lawyers signed up to serve all of its poor defendants.

“It is a good budget, however, there is once again no funding in there for indigent legal services to make changes to the system that are really needed, there are a lot of things in this budget that are on our wish list,” Keim said. “But legal indigent services is a constitutional obligation of our state.”

All other budget speeches on the Senate floor were in support of the budget, including from Republican leaders like Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, who said it was one of the few state budgets he had ever voted for. Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, voted against the bill without comment.

The budget bill leaves the rest of Mills’ proposed spending plan mostly intact, including $12 million to increase childcare worker pay by $200 a month, $20 million to make community college free for the classes of 2020 through 2023, and $30 million to keep the state’s commitment to cover 55 percent of public education costs.

It still includes a $60 million relief fund to pay for testing, income replacement and buyouts for farmers dealing with forever chemicals, or PFAS, left behind by fertilizer made up of state-licensed sludge. The chemicals pose significant human health risks, including cancer.

It keeps the Budget Stabilization Fund at $492 million, the highest in state history, and puts $15 million into a new Education Rainy Day Fund, putting total state savings at over $500 million. It also earmarks $100 million to the Department of Transportation to fix roads and bridges.

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