Inside Augusta

Gov. Mills attempts to appease critics, stretches the truth in first State of the State address

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills delivered her first State of the State address Tuesday evening, calling on lawmakers to work together to address challenges Maine faces in its bicentennial year while laying out the administration’s policy priorities for her future years in office.

In the speech, Gov. Mills made a pair of concessions to her loudest critics on saving and transportation funding, stating she’d like to use $20 million of the state’s existing $120 million surplus to add to the Budget Stabilization Fund in preparation for an economic downturn, and signaled she is open to using some general fund dollars to help close the gap on the state’s $232 million transportation funding shortfall.

Two oft-repeated refrains by the governor were the “resiliency” of Maine’s people and businesses, and that we can accomplish the priorities laid out during her speech because “We are not Washington, we are Maine.” Gov. Mills tried to draw a clear contrast between the political environments in Maine and Washington DC, touting pragmatism and bipartisanship under the dome in Augusta while lambasting the partisan rancor on Capitol Hill.

Like most State of the State addresses, Gov. Mills laid out a number of policies her administration will pursue in the coming years, but provided little specifics on how much each item would cost or how it would be implemented.

In her speech, the governor repeated a debunked claim that her legislative allies were responsible for providing property tax relief in the First Session of the 129th Legislature, not mentioning the bulk of the funds used to provide relief were collected under the tenure of former Gov. Paul LePage to provide all Maine taxpayers with income tax relief.

“Oh yeah, and we provided $75 million in property tax relief for Maine seniors, families and small businesses – just look in your mailbox, about 300,000 of you should receive a $104 check thanks to the bipartisan budget passed last year and the work of Speaker Gideon,” Mills said.

While discussing the state’s transportation funding challenges, Gov. Mills made no mention of the Transportation Climate Initiative or the possibility of a gas tax increase as a result of the work being conducted by the Blue Ribbon Commission studying long-term transportation funding solutions.

“Partisan posturing and skinny mix won’t fix the roads,” Mills said. “Creative ideas will.”

The governor also touted her clean energy agenda and claimed taxpayers benefit from the solar array constructed at the Blaine House in 2019, to which there was an audible laugh from lawmakers in the audience.

“Solar energy is changing the landscape and saving money for people all across the state. At the Blaine House alone, the new array of solar panels has already saved the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide emissions,” Mills said.

As noted by the Press Herald in December, the solar installation at the Blaine House was so uneconomical that only one vendor submitted a bid on the project. The paper also stated, “as an energy investment, its value to taxpayers is debatable,” and noted the project would generate only half as much power as initially projected.

The main policy ambitions outlined in the remainder in the governor’s speech include creating a state-based health insurance marketplace, developing offshore wind power, creating an affordable housing tax credit and expanding broadband in rural Maine.

The governor’s full State of the State address can be read here.  

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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