Maine’s September general fund revenues exceeded expectations by about $45.8 million in September and by $68.1 million over three months, but the lack of a new federal stimulus may dampen future prospects, the state budget department in a monthly report released Tuesday.
While the higher numbers in September are on par with trends in other states, they are likely due to federal coronavirus relief funds, including the $1,200 individual stimulus checks and the $600 per week enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, according to Kirsten Figueroa, commissioner of the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
The weekly enhanced unemployment benefits and the stimulus checks already have expired, while proceeds from Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses can be spent into December. Additionally, the higher revenues in the first quarter of the 2021 fiscal year, which began on July 1, are still $34.4 million lower than revenues in the first quarter of the last budget year.
The news came as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin work to narrow their differences on a stimulus bill by the end of Tuesday, a deadline Pelosi set but has since signaled will be flexible. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said any deal between Pelosi and the administration of President Donald Trump would get a vote in the upper chamber.
Maine lagged New England neighbors when it comes to allocating coronavirus relief funding from the federal government even as Gov. Janet Mills and the state’s congressional delegation lobbies for more flexibility and money to address budget shortfalls across state and local government.
“Looking to the next budget cycle, amid the continued economic impacts of the global pandemic, the need for action from Congress to support states’ most crucial services cannot be overstated,” she said.
Much of the strong revenue performance came from sales and use tax receipts, which were over budget for September by $13 million and for the fiscal year by $22.8 million. Auto and building supplies sales both continue to increase at double digits compared to the previous year. But restaurant and lodging sales were down 30 percent and 40 percent compared to the previous year because of the downturn in travel during virus restrictions.
Figueroa said other states have reported similar or stronger monthly sales, but “everyone remains concerned that the end of the $600 enhanced unemployment benefits and the lack of additional stimulus from the federal government may begin to constrain consumer spending during the final quarter of the fiscal year.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.