AUGUSTA, Maine — The referendum to decide on Maine’s state flag design will not happen this year but instead in 2024.
That’s because Gov. Janet Mills will let the bill take effect without her signature, putting it into law after the Legislature reconvenes in January, her office said Wednesday. The Legislature wrapped up its work for the year early Wednesday by approving about $11 million in funding for various measures that are tacked on to the two-year, $10.3 billion budget.
Included in the additional spending bills was the proposal to let Maine voters decide whether to keep the current flag design featuring the state seal and a pine tree, moose, farmer and seaman on a blue background, or change it back to the 1901 design featuring a pine tree and blue star on a tan background.
A fiscal note for the bill did not capture how much money would be needed to print new flag designs, but for election-related costs, it said the secretary of state’s office may need $172,000 if numerous referendums next year require the printing of a second ballot.
The initial flag proposal from former Rep. Sean Paulhus, D-Bath, would have changed the current flag featuring the 1909 state seal design back to the “lone pine tree” version, but an amendment from Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, will let voters decide on the design.
“Rather than sign the bill and rush the question to ballot in little more than three months, she will … allow time for robust public debate and discussion on all sides of the issue,” Mills spokesperson Ben Goodman said.
Proponents of the original flag design have argued it is more unique than other states’ flags while still representing Maine’s heritage, but those in favor of keeping the state seal design have argued it best captures the state’s people and industries.
Debates around state flag designs are not only playing out in Maine. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill in March to adopt a new flag design that officially takes effect next year, but a signature-gathering effort is already underway in that state to retain the old design.