AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills and legislative leaders announced Monday that they reached a bipartisan deal on a revised $73 million supplemental budget proposal, with much of the new spending aimed at combating coronavirus.

The proposal is $52 million less than a spending plan offered by Mills in February, reflecting a growing concern that Maine’s economy and tax revenues could suffer dramatically in the months ahead.

In an unusual move, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee endorsed the entire budget as a single item instead of voting on individual lines. Members also voted to exempt the bill from financial review by the committee, meaning the new spending plan can go into effect quickly if it gains two-thirds support in the Legislature on Tuesday and is signed quickly by Mills.

“In times of uncertainty, we must put partisanship aside and put Maine people first, which is what we did,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “All of us are committed to learning from other states and making sure Maine is better able to weather this outbreak.”

The Legislature will meet Tuesday, starting at 10 a.m. but it is unlikely to finish all of its work before sometime early Wednesday morning.

Legislative leaders also took the unusual step of closing the State House complex to the public starting at midnight Monday. Only lawmakers, State House staff and members of the media will be allowed access Tuesday, another move meant to limit the spread of the virus. An advisory issued by the Legislative Council, which has jurisdiction over the State House, also suggested that any staff members or lawmakers who may be in a high-risk category, like those with impaired immune systems, stay at home Tuesday.

The new supplemental budget prioritizes initiatives related to COVID-19, including a $1 million funding infusion for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The money will be used to supplement federal funds to expand capacity at the state laboratory and to hire and retain critical health care personnel, including epidemiologists and public health nurses, to respond to the pandemic.

The revised proposal also includes $10.6 million for rate increases to support direct health care providers who care for the highest-risk Maine people, including seniors and those with underlying health conditions, as well as people with disabilities.

The package also dedicates $17.4 million to the Budget Stabilization Fund to prepare for the possibility of future coronavirus-related expenses or any shifts in Maine’s economy as a result of the virus. If the increase is approved by the Legislature, the Budget Stabilization Fund will have grown by approximately $50 million since Mills took office.

The bill also includes an additional $38 million in state funding for public education in Maine, which would bump the state’s contribution to education to nearly 52 percent but is still shy of the 55 percent mandated in state law.

The budget also includes $10 million for highways and road repair that would come directly from the state’s general fund, a move that could create a new pathway for highway funding in the future instead of depending on fuel taxes and borrowing packages approved by voters.

Mills, a Democrat, and State House leaders also agreed to a $105 million borrowing package for road and bridge construction and repair, and another $15 million bond for expanding high-speed internet in parts of rural Maine. The Legislature is expected to vote on the spending and borrowing packages Tuesday and then adjourn to comply with social distancing recommendations by health officials.

“This revised proposal represents a bipartisan effort to strengthen the state’s ability to respond to and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Maine,” Mills said in a prepared statement. “It takes strong steps to boost Maine’s health care system in support of our most vulnerable citizens, support the Maine CDC, and prepare for the very real prospect of an economic downturn related to the virus. I thank Legislative leaders for rising to the challenge of our times to reach this agreement and protect Maine people and our economy.”

The unusual joint news release Monday included statements from legislative leaders of both parties.

“In these highly unusual times, we must all adjust to a very new and unfamiliar ‘normal’ for the short term while being mindful of our neighbors, family, and friends,” said Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro. “This is also true here in the State Capitol, where all of us have been working collaboratively through the weekend and beyond to look after the best interests of all Mainers.”

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, also lauded the effort.

“As elected officials, we have a grave and urgent responsibility to take decisive action to confront this crisis,” Gideon said.

The new budget proposal also does not draw any funds from a $74 million revenue surplus that had been forecast for the next two years, but which was issued prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

The proposal is in addition to a series of other bipartisan emergency bills under consideration by the Legislature, including changes to the state’s unemployment insurance program that would allow faster access to benefits for those who lose work because of the pandemic.


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