AUGUSTA — The first hearings on a proposal by Gov. Janet Mills for $126 million in new spending, much of it on one-time items or programs, will start in earnest Tuesday before the Legislature’s budget writing panel.

But Republicans and Democrats on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee may already be miles apart on their priorities for increased state spending – made possible by a steady economy that is generating more state tax revenue than anticipated earlier.

Republicans say they want more state general fund revenue earmarked for state road and bridge work, while Democrats said Mills’ proposal gives them a solid starting point for improving programs and services aimed at helping disadvantaged Maine people.

The supplemental budget proposal, announced earlier this month, comes on the heels of an $8 billion, two-year state budget approved by lawmakers last June.

The committee will start taking public testimony on the supplemental budget Tuesday and is likely to continue for at least two weeks before the panel gets down to detailed negotiations aimed at reaching a bipartisan deal.

The supplemental budget requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature for any money to be spent before the fiscal year ends June 30. If approved by a simply majority, the spending can not take place until at least 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, likely in late April or early May.

Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, ranking Republican member of the budget-writing committee, said last week that his caucus wants far more than the $10 million Mills has requested from the general fund for roads and bridges.

“Overall we have made our priorities clear and that is more money for transportation,” Hamper said.

Mills’ $10 million request marked the first time in recent memory that a governor has proposed using general fund money for transportation.

Still, Republicans were quick to criticize the proposal, saying they were promised more for road work, a priority for many of their constituents and critical to Maine’s economy.

A special highway fund administered by the Department of Transportation and funded by taxes on gasoline and diesel – currently 31 cents a gallon – pays for state highway projects. That work has also been financed with a near-annual $100 million borrowing package put to voters each November. But Republicans have said borrowing and paying interest for those projects makes no sense when the state has cash on hand.

Hamper said other parts of Mills’ budget proposal are open for discussion, but he would pay closest attention to items on the wish list that draw down federal matching funds, compounding investments made by Maine taxpayers.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the committee, said Mills’ proposal is solid and represents a good chance for lawmakers to fix lingering problems and staff shortages, especially in the Department of Health and Human Services.

He said proposals that would bolster programs to help the developmentally disabled, the elderly and other disadvantaged Mainers will be an equally high priority for Democrats.

Among other things, Mills asked for funding for an additional 20 caseworkers in the state’s child protective system, which has been scrutinized following high-profile abuse deaths of children, including 4-year-old Kendall Chick in December 2017 and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in February 2018.

“We have significant resources to do good things for Maine people within our financial situation,” Gattine said, noting that none would necessarily require new taxes.

Gattine noted that neither Mills nor Republican lawmakers are open to significant tax increases.

“I don’t think you are going to see an effort to raise new revenues in a situation where the governor doesn’t want it and the entire minority (Republican) caucus doesn’t want to do it,” Gattine said.

Both Hamper and Gattine said their members will be open minded Tuesday and hope negotiations will be civil.

“I’m grateful that Gov. Mills has given us a good starting point for what we need to do,” Gattine said.

Hamper said while minority Republicans don’t hold the leverage they would in a regular two-year budget negotiation, where failure to reach a deal could force a government shutdown, they would still fight hard for their priorities.

“There are still a lot of cards to be played,” Hamper said.

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