Maine Legislature sends $8.5B Maine budget upping school, local aid to Janet Mills

Jun. 30—AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature overwhelmingly passed a revised $8.5 billion, two-year budget that will make historic increases in K-12 education and local aid on Wednesday, setting it up for a promised signature from Gov. Janet Mills.

The budget has been workshopped for weeks after the Democratic governor revised her package following nearly $1 billion in revised revenue projections for the next two years. Members of the Legislature's budget committee finalized the package on Sunday after brokering a $300 COVID-19 relief payment. The deal will boost the state's portion of public education to a historic 55 percent and raise municipal revenue sharing to 5 percent of state tax revenue.

The bill garnered a 119-25 vote in the Maine House for Representatives and a 32-3 vote in the Senate in initial votes and was enacted along similar margins later in the day. The votes mean the budget has the necessary two-third votes to pass into law immediately after Mills signs it, something the governor said she would do in the coming days. The bill was unanimously supported by Democrats and saw opposition from two independents and some Republicans in earlier rounds of voting.

The votes show just how different negotiations on the bill were from the first round of budget talks in March, when Democrats bypassed Republicans to pass an $8.3 billion spending bill after fraught negotiations earlier that month on a short-term budget.

"Who of us, back in March, would have thought we would reach this level of bipartisanship?" said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, who broke with his party to oppose the initial two-year package in March because Republicans were cut out. "I wouldn't have, I'll admit it."

The budget cleared both chambers without changes after Rep. Chris Kessler, D-South Portland, proposed an amendment putting $9 million into the budget that would have increased the reimbursement rates for child community-based treatments and outpatient therapy. But lawmakers killed the proposed change to keep the bipartisan agreement intact.

Members of the budget committee highlighted causes that were particularly important to their caucuses. Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, focused on adding dozens of positions to the state's public health departments and adding $40 million to the Land for Maine's Future conservation fund over the next 10 years.

The deal did not come without some controversy. The budget panel took out $32 million in funding that was projected to offset a proposed ban on menthol and flavored tobacco products, plus $5 million more for the state's tobacco prevention program.

Republicans put a top priority on defeating that proposal, arguing the measure would be too expensive and send users of those products to New Hampshire. But Hilary Schneider, the director of government relations for the American Cancer Society's advocacy arm in Maine, said lawmakers "chose to side with Big Tobacco by walking away from this proposal."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Rep. Chris Kessler's home city. It is South Portland.