The Maine Legislature came together last week on wide-ranging issues both in a supplemental budget and in a series of last-minute votes before the session ended.
The headline from the passage of the $1.2 million supplemental budget is that $850 checks are headed to roughly 850,000 Mainers, but what should also grab your attention is the fact that it was passed with a 119-16 vote in the House and 32-2 vote in the Senate. In other words, with strong support from both sides of the aisle.
The direct payments, which could start going out in June, would return $729 million of the state’s surplus to the people, including senior citizens and disabled residents who do not file tax returns. Under current terms, individuals who earn up to $100,000 a year and households that earn up to $200,000 a year are eligible.
The idea of the direct payments first came from the state’s Republican leadership, whose members wanted to return the unprecedented surplus back to the taxpayers. A good idea is a good idea, and so with support from lawmakers, it became a central piece of the budget. As everyday items such as gas and groceries skyrocket, the one-time funds are meant to help people weather current price spikes.
Other budget initiatives will also help the state’s most vulnerable populations, including childcare workers who will see a rise in pay and free community college for students who have graduated between 2020 and 2023, as well as a commitment to cover 55 percent of public education costs.
The budget also includes $60 million to fund testing for the class of PFAS known as forever chemicals and, if needed, to help farmers who have been affected by the common practice of fertilizing fields with state-licensed municipal sludge.
In addition to the budget, as reported in the Portland Press Herald, two compromises on important pieces of policy were achieved as time was running out on the session, and they should not be overlooked. With the utilities regulation bill, L.D. 1959, and changes to the so-called “Good Samaritan law,” L.D. 1862, legislators and the Governor’s office worked together to find a way forward on legislation that will make Maine better able to meet its challenges.
Both bills went through significant rewrites before compromise was achieved. In the end, both parties worked together to create not only something they could all live with, but something that will also benefit all Mainers into the future.
Governor Janet Mills and lawmakers deserve credit for finding ways to come together and solve some of the more challenging issues in front of them. This is what we send our elected our representatives to do, and it is wonderful to see democracy in action.
When we work together, we can solve problems and create opportunities for all citizens to succeed.