AUGUSTA — A proposal to help towns struggling with paper mill closures advanced Wednesday despite some lawmakers’ concerns about how the last-minute bill would change the state’s education funding formula.

The bill would offer roughly $900,000 in additional school funding to be split among the four towns that have lost paper mills by tapping into unspent funds within the Maine Department of Education. The bill goes even further, however, by changing the state education formula in order to help future towns that lose a single, large business qualify for additional education aid.

But some lawmakers objected to changing the funding formula via a bill that was introduced in the final days of the legislative session and was being pushed through the Legislature without a public hearing.

“This is major legislation,” said Rep. Stedman Seavey, R-Kennebunkport. “It may only affect four or five towns in this bill now, but it could potentially impact every town in the state, depending on your neighboring town’s circumstance. This legislation deals with state valuation, county tax and school funding formulas.”

House lawmakers eventually changed the Senate bill to make it applicable for only one year.

The late-session bill, L.D. 1699, sprang from negotiations between LePage administration staff, lawmakers and representatives of towns affected by the turmoil in the state’s paper industry. Paper mills have closed in East Millinocket, Bucksport, Old Town and Lincoln in recent years, and the Madison mill will close in May, putting more than 200 people out of work.


The bill introduced by Gov. Paul LePage and sponsored by Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, would provide additional aid to several of those towns.

But over the long term, the bill also would make any town eligible for emergency education aid if the municipality’s state valuation – a key factor in calculating state education funding – declines by 4.5 percent because of property tax losses attributable to a single business or taxpayer.

“What I’m asking you to think about is there are four towns that can use this right now,” said Rep. Bradlee Farrin, R-Norridgewock. “They are Madison, Skowhegan, Lincoln and East Millinocket, and going forward any other town or city that found themselves in the same situation.”

Seeking to address concerns within his Democratic caucus about the late timing of the bill, House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan said the legislation was based on several proposals that have been heard by the Legislature before. But in the end, the House voted to limit the bill to one year.

Rep. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, was among the lawmakers who supported providing emergency funding to the struggling mill towns, but raised concerns about the broader implications.

“I’m very leery of something that could impact the funding formula going into the future,” he said.

The bill now heads back to the Senate, where earlier Wednesday Democrats failed to add the one-year time limit following a brief but fiery debate.

“If you think this is a small vote, I kid you not, your superintendent is going to know about this vote,” said Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland. “This vote right here is one of the biggest votes we are going to take.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: