Gov. Janet Mills unveiled her change package to the supplemental budget on March 18, which spends all but $20 million of the state’s projected $1.2 billion General Fund surplus and would increase the amount of direct relief checks Maine taxpayers would receive to $850.
The change package includes spending plans for the additional $411.7 million in projected revenue that the Revenue Forecasting Committee announced on March 1. Mills had previously said she would allocate half of the additional projected surplus to direct checks, bringing the total to $750.
Her original supplemental budget proposal allocated half of the roughly $822 billion to direct checks of $500 for Maine residents. With the latest addition, the governor’s budget allocates $682 million for direct checks.
According to a press release from Mills’ office, the change package proposes sending the relief checks to Mainers “in the face of record high inflation and rising oil and gas prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
If enacted as currently written, Mills’ revised supplemental budget would bring the state’s General Fund budget to $8.672 billion, up from the current budget of $8.5 billion. According to the Mills administration, the current proposal “constrains net appropriations to just $172 million of the $1.2 billion surplus, dedicating more than 80 percent of the surplus to one-time initiatives and savings as a hedge against economic uncertainty, rather than ongoing spending.”
Other proposals included in Mills’ change package include $60 million for funding to address agricultural land contaminated by so-called “forever chemicals” perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS). Mills’ proposal would direct the money to the Fund to Address PFAS Contamination. The fund was proposed by LD 2013 within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, though the original bill called for $100 million to address PFAS contamination. The bill was voted out of committee on March 17 and has not yet been voted on by the legislature.
Mills’ change package also proposes $22 million for Maine State Housing. The money would be allocated to the agency’s Emergency Housing Relief fund and be used for rental assistance and other programs to address homelessness.
Prior to the release of the full change package, Mills announced she intended to allocate $19.7 million for several behavioral healthcare initiatives and $1.75 million to keep open Maine Veterans Homes in Caribou and Machias. The proposal includes an additional $1.75 million in federal funds, meaning a total of $3.5 million would be directed towards the homes if the proposal is passed as part of the final budget agreement.
According to a press release from the Mills administration, Mills proposed spending on behavioral healthcare “supports children’s residential care, assertive community treatment for those with severe and persistent mental illness, targeted case management, and outpatient therapy for children and adults through one-time supplemental payments and ongoing rate adjustments.”
The Mills administration said the programs were included in several bills that were passed in 2021 but for which funds were not appropriated. The proposal would also utilize $17.1 million in federal funding, bringing the total amount of funds allocated to behavioral healthcare in Mills’ proposal to $36.8 million.
After Mills released her change package on March 18, House Republicans circulated a press release stating Rep. Sawin Millett (R-Waterford) had proposed an amendment to LD 327, Rep. Jeff Hanley’s (R-Pittston) bill designed to return the budget surplus to taxpayers, which was rejected by Democrats on the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs.
According to the release, Millett’s amendment used “language in the FY22’-23’ Supplemental Budget that has been under review by the Committee for more than a month,” and was an attempt to get direct relief to Maine taxpayers more quickly. The amendment would have sent money to Mainers electronically, rather than by the mailed checks Mills is proposing. If passed as currently proposed, the relief checks are expected to begin being distributed until July.