AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills used her Tuesday budget address to unveil a smattering of new proposals focused on energy and housing, including one that would set a goal of having 100 percent of Maine’s electricity come from renewables by 2040.
The Democratic governor’s $10.3 billion two-year budget proposal, released last month, holds the line on income taxes while continuing to fund K-12 education and municipal aid at statutory levels long unmet before Mills’ tenure, while putting $400 million toward transportation in a bid to draw $1 billion in federal money.
While Mills has sold the plan as a status-quo one that leaves Maine’s record rainy day fund untouched and rests on bipartisan ideas, legislative Republicans have criticized the measure for not containing a tax decrease. That may mark the major sticking point in talks around the budget between now and June, when the state’s fiscal year ends.
“Our state stands on solid fiscal footing, and we are prepared to weather whatever economic challenges may come,” Mills said in a speech lasting about an hour. “The state of our budget is strong.”
Mills made news in her address. The new energy goal would replace one set in the first year of the governor’s tenure that aimed to transition Maine to all-renewable electricity by 2050. Roughly half of the power consumed by Mainers comes from renewables now.
In the House chamber on Tuesday, few Republicans applauded when the governor laid out that goal, which is one of the few items that is likely to come outside the budget process. Democrats could pass the change by themselves as a standalone measure.
The governor also supported a measure from Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, that would expand a “Housing First” program used in Portland and other places across the country statewide. Under the bill, the state would provide housing to hundreds of people who lack it before connecting them to mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
She rolled out a number of smaller programs as well, including a 25 percent increase in the state’s purchases of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, a new comprehensive plan for the embattled child welfare system in partnership with advocacy groups and another four judges to relieve a major backlog in the criminal justice system.
Mills’ budget continues past initiatives, including money to keep providing school meals to all students regardless of income, free community college for recent high-school graduates and allocates an initial $46 million to fund a program passed last year that freezes property taxes for seniors and is the subject of overhaul proposals in the Legislature now.
The governor left out some priority subjects for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. She did not tip her hand on whether she would be open to the desire of minority Republicans in the Legislature to cut income taxes. Progressives were also hoping she would support a $400 million paid family and medical leave program before lawmakers now, but she did not.
“We feel like pencils need to be sharpened a little bit here and we’d like to see a reduction in this budget and a tax cut,” House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, told reporters after the speech.
While two-year budgets are normally passed by consensus in Augusta, Mills and the Democrats in charge of Augusta could move by the end of March to advance their own plan over Republican opposition, as they did in 2021 before the document was updated by both parties.
Though the governor has not promised a bipartisan budget, both sides have said they want one. Mills looked to be trying for one on Tuesday, peppering her speech with references to her accomplishments coming on the heels of work across party lines.
“I look forward to working with all of you in the coming months to enact a strong, bipartisan budget that is worthy of the people we serve and that addresses our most pressing needs,” she said.