A fuel delivery truck advertises its price for a gallon of heating oil on Oct. 5, 2022 in Livermore Falls. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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After a revised forecast this week projected a $280 million state budget surplus through mid-2023, Gov. Janet Mills teased the release of a heating aid plan to help Mainers deal with fuel prices that are near record highs with winter weather setting in.

That is nowhere near the amount of surplus that fueled the $850 checks sent earlier this year to 858,000 Mainers, including single tax filers making less than $100,000 and families at $200,000 or less. So far, Mills has been teasing a plan targeting low-income and middle-class people. Legislators in both parties have been hopeful that an agreement could be reached shortly after lawmakers convene in earnest in January.

The Democratic governor has been briefing Republicans on the plan this week. Incoming House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham of Winter Harbor said he had met with a Mills advisor and spoken to the governor briefly by phone.

He declined to give details on the plan and cautioned negotiations were still preliminary, but he said it was “missing the middle class” and Republicans would push to open aid to more Mainers. The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the negotiations on Wednesday.

“I would like to see that relief expanded more broadly,” Faulkingham said.

Republicans did poorly in the November election and will be confined to minority status in the Legislature for the third consecutive term, but their input is important here because no relief proposal will be out the door in time for the heating season if it does not get two-thirds votes in both chambers. Other interests want aggressive moves toward electrification considered alongside any plan for relief checks.

The political calculations will be careful here. Every politician in Augusta will have a desire to get relief out quickly, but everyone is also going to want to take credit for shaping it. Democrats are in control, but Republicans possess purse power and will want to use it while not delaying aid in a way that leaves them vulnerable to attacks from the majority party.

All of this is why Mills is briefing Republicans before any public release, although it is unclear at this point whether these disagreements are holding an announcement up. On Tuesday, the governor’s office said a plan was coming this week. Spokespeople did not immediately respond to a question on whether it was coming Friday.

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...