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Fresh off a double-digit win over Paul LePage, Gov. Janet Mills is swiftly moving along in dealing with critical matters for the people of Maine. And she’s doing it in a way that exemplifies her campaign slogan “I fight problems, not people.”
At the top of the governance agenda is providing help for staying warm at a time when home heating prices are high. While the exact details are still under negotiation, it’s likely that, after a bipartisan agreement, most Mainers will receive a round of checks to help pay their bills.
What’s striking is the modesty of disagreement between legislators and the governor. There aren’t major differences based on ideology or governing philosophy but rather where to set the income cutoff.
It looks like Republicans want to enable families that make far beyond working-class or middle-class income to receive checks. Under Mills’ draft proposal, “couples filing jointly and making less than $150,000 would get $900.” Per the 2020 U.S. Census, $150,000 is more than double the Maine median family income of $59,489.
Still, it’s striking there will be a quick and relatively easy policy move.
It’s a positive that Maine governments can get things done but let’s not lose track of why that’s possible in this case.
For one, there’s so much shared agreement that heating help is a real need. Everyone during the campaigns wanted to do something to address it, including Mills’ opponent LePage.
Second, striking election wins — as happened in Maine — can have a way of concentrating the mind of elected officials.
Third — making a deal is more than possible because what happens builds on a previous set of actions with similar individuals. Relationships and leadership matter in politics as they do elsewhere.
And of course there are resources available — funds in the Maine treasury — that can be used for these checks, and for other important aspects of the proposal, such as funds specifically set aside for low-income households who qualify for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).
Recognizing those particulars for an easy heating aid deal helps us see that this template for government action won’t necessarily apply for other issues.
It may be harder to reach agreements on other aspects of Mills’ draft proposal of last week, which involve health care and housing, two highly complex matters.
For instance, solving the problems of homeless people in Bangor doesn’t rely on simply delivering a check. Those individuals have complicated problems and need intensive, focused interventions. And ultimately addressing those requires a great deal of local action and engagement.
Grappling with these more complex issues means an ongoing effort, based in planning.
And the Mills’ administration continues to make progress on another very complicated matter that will affect Maine for decades — climate change. The Gulf of Maine is warming rather rapidly compared to the world’s oceans, rising sea levels pose a threat to habitat and properties, and higher temperatures harm Maine forests.
State government has set specific goals on climate mitigation measures and holds itself accountable by providing information on how it’s doing in meeting those. You can see these online at Maine’s government website.
Besides the metrics that are hard for non-scientists to fully grasp — like the amount of gross greenhouse gasses emitted — there are detailed targets that were determined to be important for meeting the larger effort.
And some of these are directly tied to Mainers’ home heating needs — particularly heat pump installations and home weatherization. While there certainly has been progress during Mills’ first term, moving along more quickly on these goals is important for keeping people warm in the winter, saving money, making the state less dependent on oil and protecting our climate.
Meanwhile, other issues will be more thorny, with more limits to resources and larger differences of philosophy — both between and within the party caucuses. But starting with an area of consensus involving a clear need for our time can build trust between elected officials and the people and make future steps forward more possible.