Larger relief checks for most Mainers and a $60 million fund to address PFAS contamination are among the largest new items in Gov. Janet Mills’ revised supplemental budget proposal released by her office Friday.
The proposal from Mills, which comes after the state’s revenue forecasters projected the state’s two-year budget surplus would be $400 million more than previously anticipated, would dedicate most of the funds to one-time spending, with more than half going to relief checks. She leaves just $20 million unallocated out of an estimated $1.2 billion surplus for lawmakers to consider.
If the supplemental budget clears the Legislature, most Mainers would receive $850 checks later this year — up from $500 in Mills’ initial proposal and $750 in a later one. The Democratic governor cited inflation and high gas costs, coupled with the state’s higher-than-expected surplus. The relief checks would cost the state $682 million, by far the largest item.
“This proposal will help Maine people grapple with these increased costs by putting money directly back into their pockets,” Mills said in a release.
The proposed checks stem from an idea initially floated by legislative Republicans last fall to return at least half of the state’s surplus to taxpayers. Mainers who earned less than $75,000 in 2021 would be eligible for the checks, which could go out beginning in July, according to the Mills administration.
Rep. Sawin Millett of Waterford, a leading Republican on the budget committee, said he supported Mills’ plan to increase the amount. But he said Republicans would push her administration to get the funds out sooner and administered via direct deposit when possible. An amendment aiming to do that was tabled by majority Democrats on the committee on Friday.
“Many people are struggling,” Millett said. “It’s been a long winter and we’d like to see that money get in their hands as soon as possible.”
The governor’s proposal Friday also includes $60 million for a fund to address PFAS contamination after a panel lawmakers endorsed a larger one on Thursday, $22 million for the Maine State Housing Authority to address homelessness and just shy of $20 million to aid the state’s behavioral health system.
That is on top of previously announced budget items, including $100 million for roads and bridges, $30 million each for stabilization funds supporting Medicaid and K-12 schools and $30 million to increase MaineCare rates and support higher pay for health care workers. The plan would also add $10 million to the state’s rainy day fund.
The campaign of former Gov. Paul LePage, Mills’ Republican challenger, slammed the updated package on Friday, reiterating LePage’s own calls to slash gas and income taxes as an alternative to checks, which campaign advisor Brent Littlefield characterized as a “election year gimmick.”