Habib Dagher, founding executive director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine in Orono, talks about the development of offshore floating wind turbines on Dec. 6, 2023. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers on Tuesday and Wednesday added $11 million in spending to Maine’s budget, including a landmark offshore wind bill and historic salary increases for the next governor and Legislature.

The series of votes came on the Legislature’s final scheduled day of work in 2023 beginning Tuesday and stretching into Wednesday morning, tacking more onto the $10.3 billion two-year budget signed by Gov. Janet Mills earlier this month. The additional bills had been languishing without funding until they were included in a list of recommendations from the budget panel.

The major policy item in the bunch is a bill that aims to start Maine’s offshore wind industry by instituting rules around port and project construction. Mills, a Democrat who has pushed adoption of offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine, vetoed a related bill in June due to protections for organized labor she said were too sweeping.

The governor and unions came to a deal earlier this month, and it was approved by the Democratic-led Senate in a 19-8 vote Tuesday. It will leave half the jobs in the nascent industry for non-union companies and half for unionized companies if they can fill them in a way that prioritizes hiring Maine workers.

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, unsuccessfully tried to refer the offshore wind bill back to the energy committee, arguing a late amendment received no public input. But the sponsor, Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-Eliot, said it will bring more jobs and lower energy prices to Maine while helping the environment.

Lawmakers also approved a bill calling for a referendum on the state flag design, but Mills will delay it until 2024. The initial flag proposal would have changed the current flag featuring the state seal back to the original design featuring a pine tree and blue star, but an amendment from Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, will let voters decide on the design.

Mills could have signed it immediately and put it on the November ballot, but Ben Goodman, her spokesperson, confirmed the governor will allow the state flag bill to become law without her signature “to allow time for robust public debate and discussion on all sides of the issue.” That means the referendum will come in 2024 rather than this year.

Among the other bills approved Tuesday was a proposal to raise the governor’s annual salary from $70,000 to $125,000 and legislative salaries from $25,000 to $45,000 over their two-year terms. The last gubernatorial salary raise was in 1987, and it was in 1999 for lawmakers.

Mills will not see a raise under this change, because it will take effect after the Democrat reaches her term limits in 2026. Legislators will see an increased salary once the next Legislature is seated in late 2024.

Maine’s gubernatorial salary has been among the lowest in the country, though governors here also benefit from an unaudited expense account of $30,000. That fund would rise to $40,000 under the salary bill from Rep. Bill Bridgeo, D-Augusta, a longtime city manager. The pay bump for lawmakers would cost nearly $1.7 million per year.

Other bills that will get tacked on to the $10.3 billion two-year budget that Mills signed into law earlier this month include measures calling for a study of a new University of Maine medical school, improving the Maine National Guard’s response to sexual assault, creating a referendum to print tribal treaty obligations in the Maine Constitution, streamlining the “bottle bill” and providing emergency aid to dairy farmers affected by milk price volatility.

A proposed constitutional amendment to expand ranked-choice voting to elections for governor and state legislative seats failed to win enough Republican support in the Senate to go to voters, killing the initiative.

Billy Kobin is a politics reporter who joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked at The Indianapolis Star and The Courier Journal (Louisville, Ky.) after graduating...