The public hearing for Democratic Gov. Janet Mills massive $447 million spending bill has been scheduled for next Wednesday.
Mills originally pushed for lawmakers to adopt the spending package without public hearings on the first day new lawmakers were sworn in, an unprecedented move.
However, Senate Republicans insisted on having public hearings to review various aspects of the spending proposal.
Since Maine’s Constitution requires two-thirds support in both Houses of the Legislature to pass an “emergency bill” without public hearings, Senate Republicans were capable of forcing public hearings.
The spending package, which Mills marketed as a “heating assistance bill,” provided for a new round of direct payments to Maine residents via checks, allocated more money to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and appropriated more funding to emergency housing and shelter.
Democratic lawmakers saw a $238 million forecasted revenue surplus and left over Pandemic Era COVID-19 dollars as an opportunity to help Mainers mitigate the high cost of electricity and home heating oil as New England winter approaches.
But Republicans have questioned the “emergency” designation for the bill as well as the description of the proposal as primarily about heating assistance, considering the Maine House Authority, which administers LIHEAP, has said the heating assistance program is adequately funded through to next summer.
Critics of the Legislation have also questioned the propriety of pillaging funding originally dedicated through the Medicaid program for nursing homes and traumatic brain injuries.
Earlier this week, Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) and Sen. Nicole Grohoski (D-Hancock) pitched a slimmed down compromise version of the bill that spent less of checks for wealthier Maine residents. It’s unclear whether what role that bipartisan proposal might play during Wednesday’s hearings.
You can read statements from both Democratic and Republican leaders in the statement below, which also includes a list of which lawmakers will have temporary seats on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.