Gov. Janet Mills speaks to the Bangor Rotary Club during an event at Husson University. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

After Gov. Janet Mills seemed wary on Tuesday of renewing a past pledge to not increase taxes if re-elected this year, her campaign said she would not do so in a second term.

The Democratic governor made such a pledge during her successful gubernatorial run in 2018, something that rankled progressives who wanted to raise taxes on higher earners to partially undo tax cuts enshrined under former Gov. Paul LePage, her Republican opponent this year.

After a forum with the Bangor Rotary Club on Tuesday, the governor did not directly answer a question about whether she would renew that pledge but said she is “not interested in raising taxes.” Her campaign manager, Alexandra Raposo, said in a follow-up email that Mills’ comments meant that she would not raise taxes if she was re-elected.

“When the Governor said she has no interest in raising taxes, she is saying that she is not going to raise taxes — just as she has said before,” Mills campaign manager Alexandra Raposo said.

Mills has not made major changes to the income tax code and noted ways that the state lowered taxes during her tenure, including by making up to $35,000 in pension income tax exempt by 2025 and addressing property taxes by fully funding K-12 education and municipal revenue sharing as well as expanding the Homestead Exemption.

Gov. Janet Mills speaks to the Bangor Rotary Club during an event at Husson University. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Taxes have been one of LePage’s pet issues since early in his tenure. While he was able to pass the biggest income tax cut in state history during his first year in office with united Republican control of Augusta, his party did not embrace later tax plans built on partially offsetting big income tax cuts with an increased and broadened sales tax.

He is running this year on another plan to phase out the income tax, although he has not fleshed out details on how he would replace the source of nearly half of the state budget.

LePage has criticized Mills for a sharp increase in state spending during the Mills era. While the state spent less than $6 billion under his first two-year budget in 2011, she came into office with one nearing $8 billion. This year, the state authorized a $1.2 billion spending package including $850 relief checks for 860,000 Mainers atop an $8.5 billion two-year budget.

But fiscal calamity has not ensued under a massive amount of federal COVID-19 aid that allowed for increased spending and helped the Mills administration increase a state reserve fund to record highs. While Mills has not undone his tax structure, LePage said in a recent clip released by the Maine Democratic Party that “there isn’t a tax that Janet Mills won’t increase.”

During Mills’ rotary speech, she touched on the effects of inflation and the price of utilities seen by Mainers, something LePage and Republicans have often used to criticize Mills, who has mostly focused on initiatives she has led with a massive amount of federal COVID-19 aid that also helped her administration to increase a state reserve fund to record highs.

Mills said no governor can control the “international forces” that contribute to inflation, but that the $850 checks sent to more than 800,000 Mainers — initially a Republican idea that a LePage staffer called a Mills “campaign gimmick” — were an example of how the state can respond.

“That measure alone was one of the strongest inflation relief measures in the entire country,” Mills said.