State representatives take part a special session of the Legislature at the State House, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats in the Maine Legislature on Monday had one last battle with Republicans when they wound down work for 2022 by raiding state reserves to advance dozens of bills that had been on track to die.

It was a show of the majority party’s muscle in Augusta after lawmakers passed a bipartisan $1.2 billion spending package signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills last week. That left just $12 million in taxpayer money to revive a small portion of a huge ream of measures that had been delayed without funding, a total evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

But the Democratic-led Legislature went further between a budget committee hearing on Friday and a Monday meeting of both chambers. They sent more than $40 million in priority measures to Mills’ desk, with $30 million of that set to come from state reserves including those funded by liquor and marijuana revenue as well as another fund set aside for unexpected Medicaid costs.

Raiding reserves is nothing new in Augusta. But state revenues have boomed due to a wave of federal COVID-19 aid, allowing Mills to boost spending sharply while socking a record sum away in the state’s rainy day fund. Her budget package was largely devoted to $850 checks to most Maine taxpayers, which led legislative Democrats to look elsewhere to fund bills.

Republican criticism of the new spending presages a contentious 2022 campaign between Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage over the state’s financial past, present and future. In a radio appearance, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said trust between the parties had broken down in Augusta.

“They basically went to every cookie jar in the State House and took all the cookies out,” he told WVOM hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler, referencing legislative Democrats.

Democrats noted bipartisan support for many of the measures. Christine Kirby, a spokesperson for Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, cited top priorities including a legal aid clinic in Fort Kent. She added that Timberlake “might just be upset that we funded these programs instead of tax cuts for his wealthy friends.”

The Medicare stabilization fund will take care of the biggest new spending item — a $12 million loan to a Maine hospital. Another $10 million program to reimburse cities and towns for rising General Assistance administration costs will be funded by liquor revenue. Marijuana revenue will fund a further expansion of Maine primaries to independent voters.

Democratic-sponsored bills got at least $36 million in funding in the end, with about $5 million for Republican bills that cleared the Legislature with Democratic support. Mills still needs to approve the measures or let them pass without her signature for the spending to take effect.

Lawmakers had been scheduled to end work for the year on Monday, though they will return on May 9 to handle expected vetoes from the governor. They could also pick up tabled measures, including a tribal sovereignty bid.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...