A look at what’s inside – and what’s missing – from Gov. Janet Mills’ $10.3 billion, 651-page budget proposal to address some of Maine’s biggest challenges.


Fatal overdoses continue to rise in Maine, with a record-breaking 650 deaths in the first 11 months of 2022. That number could top 700 after December’s deaths are added.

The Mills administration has tried to address the epidemic by supporting treatment and expanding access to Naloxone, an overdose antidote that is saving lives every day.

The new budget proposal would increase state funding for overdose prevention, recovery support, and substance use treatment by $7 million. This money, in addition to the $28 million the state received as part of a legal settlement with drug manufacturers, will: expand the distribution of naloxone to increase its availability statewide; enhance overdose prevention by increasing funding for county mobile response teams that work with people at high risk of overdose, like the homeless or recently incarcerated; pay for recovery coaches, recovery centers, recovery residences, and expanded substance use residential treatment and detox programs; and help fund the state prescription drug monitoring program.

“These investments continue the efforts begun in 2019 to support Mainers struggling with substance use disorders and at risk of an overdose,” said Gordon Smith, director of Opioid Response. “While the global pandemic and the lethal nature of the drugs being transported into the state have challenged our ability to keep individuals safe, the new funds will allow us to continue the most promising evidence-based practices, including distribution of naloxone and providing behavioral health liaisons to outreach to individuals surviving an overdose.”



Maine is at the forefront of a looming national crisis over forever chemicals, or PFAS. These long-lasting chemicals are found in a wide range of everyday consumer products and industrial applications and have been linked to serious health problems, ranging from decreased immune function to increased risk of certain cancers. Forever chemicals can be found almost everywhere, even in the rain. A state testing program launched last year has found 23 percent of private wells tested to date exceed the state’s PFAS drinking water standard.

The Mills administration has spent $100 million over the past two years to address PFAS, including $30 million for PFAS remediation and $60 million to create a PFAS relief fund to help Maine farmers impacted by the state-licensed use of PFAS-tainted sludge as fertilizer at over 700 sites in Maine. The state has set PFAS limits for drinking water, milk, beef and fish, and is working its way through a list of 700 sludge application sites to test for possible PFAS contamination.

The proposed budget devotes $6 million in new funds across multiple state agencies for PFAS detection and mitigation, including sampling and testing for PFAS in wildlife and landfills. That may not sound like a lot for a problem that everyone says is going to cost a bundle to tackle, but the board advising the administration on how to spend the $60 million PFAS relief fund just held its first public hearing on Wednesday, so there is still plenty of money available, at least for now.


Maine is the only state that does not have a public defender’s office. Instead, the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services maintains a list of private attorneys who sign up to represent clients who can’t afford to hire one. But lawyers say the $70 hourly rate is not enough to run a law office, serve their clients and pay themselves a reasonable salary, with benefits, which has led to the number of people on that roster falling from 430 in 2020 to 163 as of last November.


As a result, poor defendants in Maine are waiting a long time – sometimes weeks, occasionally months – without being appointed counsel. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has filed a lawsuit that says Maine is failing to meet its constitutional obligations to ensure poor defendants have access to effective lawyers.

Mills’ budget plan would increase commission funding by $17 million, including $13.2 million to develop a tiered compensation system to increase the hourly rate for assigned legal counsel based on the complexity of the case, paying more experienced lawyers a higher hourly wage, and $3.6 million to hire 10 new public defenders. These new positions would be in addition to the five public defender positions authorized in last year’s budget and the $20 hourly pay raises.


Last year, Mills unveiled a $20 million program in her State of the State address to use a chunk of Maine’s estimated $822 million surplus to make community college free for those who graduated high school from 2020 through 2023. She framed the idea, which was eventually approved by the Legislature, as a one-time expenditure to help students affected by the pandemic and as a workforce development program, allowing students to earn an associate degree or one-year certificate without being burdened by debt.

Mills’ pitch came after the Biden administration’s proposal to give states the money needed to provide two years of free community college was stripped from the Build Back Better bill.

The state expected the program to help about 8,000 students attend one of Maine’s seven community colleges, covering tuition costs that run about $2,880 a year. As a result, the state’s community college systems reported a sharp increase in applications this fall. After a decade of declining enrollment, the number of applications received across the system in early August 2022 was up 11 percent from the year before to almost 14,000.


The new budget would extend the program to another two graduating high school classes, 2024 and 2025, at a cost of $15 million, bringing the total spend to $35 million, as part of what Mills’ has called her big-picture approach to improving both education and the economy. The expansion might be a stretch for those Republicans ready to declare the pandemic over and have Maine return to normal.


With approval from the Legislature, Mills earmarked $27 million in her 2022 supplemental budget to cover the cost of school meals after Congress did not extend the USDA’s authority to extend the pandemic-era free meal program that allowed students of all income levels to eat free of charge during the 2022-23 school year. Maine became only the second state in the nation to let all kids eat for free at its public schools, as well as publicly funded students in approved private schools.

In her new budget, Mills includes $58 million to fully fund universal free meals for students for another two years, which came as a surprise to no one, since Mills signaled she would.

“We all know that children can’t learn on an empty stomach,” Mills said when U.S. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Tom Vilsack visited a Gorham school last fall. “I’m proud to say that here in Maine, we took nation-leading action to make sure all children can continue to eat for free during the school day. This investment in our children prepares them for future success and gives parents peace of mind.”



In describing her proposed budget, Mills said she was being cautious and that it did not include any major new programs or expansion of state government.

It does, however, include about 338 new full-time positions, which, if approved by the Legislature, would increase the full-time position count from 13,371 now to 13,709 by the end of the two-year budget cycle. For those of you at home keeping track, those are full-time positions, not necessarily people – a full-time position can be made up of several part-timers. And there is some extra math involved because seasonal workers are tracked separately, but state officials factored them into this overall count.

Here are the state agencies getting the most new positions from the governor’s proposed budget: Department of Health and Human Services (88.5), Department of Administrative and Financial Services (57.5), Judicial Department (47), Secretary of State (26), and Department of Education (21.5). The state was unable to provide a breakdown of exactly what programs these new positions would be supporting.


In her most recent report, issued just last week, the independent child welfare watchdog said the state system created to protect Maine children had not improved in response to a series of high-profile child deaths and agency reviews and, in fact, was doing worse. In a review of 83 cases involving 162 children, 46 cases were handled in a way that negatively impacted the safety and interests of children or the rights of parents, according to the Maine Child Welfare Services Ombudsman.

Last February, Mills unveiled an $8 million plan to improve the state’s child welfare system by strengthening the Office of the Child Welfare Ombudsman, adding caseworkers to reduce pressures on existing staff, improving staff training, and expanding support for families.


Mills’ budget plan includes nearly $15 million for foster care and adoption assistance and funding to support increased reimbursement rates to foster families and training for caregivers of young children to teach them to respond to children’s social and emotional needs. This builds on and complements Mills’ previous budget initiatives to bridge gaps in the child welfare workforce, implement child welfare recommendations and improve child safety in Maine.

“The current biennial budget added dozens and dozens of caseworkers and caseworker supervisors,” Mills said. “Some of those are still unfilled. … Last I knew about 60 were still unfilled.”


Mills created the Cabinet on Aging last June to develop policies to help Maine prepare for demographic changes that will support Maine people as they age in safe and affordable ways. The Governor’s Office of Policy, Innovation, and the Future this week hired Elizabeth Gattine, a disability and aging policy associate from the University of Southern Maine and wife of state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, to lead the cabinet.

The proposed budget includes $78 million to expand and improve services for older Mainers. It will fund 270,000 home-delivered meals in 2023 and 375,000 meals in 2024 as one-time federal COVID funding tapers. It will make a pilot program that assigns adult protective services clients to advocates at the Elder Abuse Institute of Maine permanent. It boosts civil legal support services, including eviction appeals, for older adults. It expands the adult protective service capacity to investigate the growing number of abuse reports received by the state.

The budget also would provide additional funding to Maine long-term care facilities to help them recover from the pandemic, including $47 million for staff pay raises. It increases the payment rates for a range of community services including adult day centers, affordable assisted living, supports to individuals living independently in apartments, and adult family care homes that will preserve and even expand these services as Maine’s older population grows.


It includes $46 million to fund the law that stabilizes property taxes for individuals 65 or older who have owned a homestead for at least 10 years.


Mills has made addressing Maine’s climate change a top priority for her administration, but her budget proposal includes only $3 million in new funding for climate-focused grants, technical assistance, and incentive programs to help Maine communities plan for climate change, reduce carbon emissions, transition to clean energy, and increase their resilience to the effects of climate change through Maine’s climate action plan, Maine Won’t Wait.

Hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars have flowed into Maine over the last two years alone to fight climate change, funding projects ranging from the installation of heat pumps to help reduce Mainers’ carbon emissions to funding to protect wastewater treatment plants from rising sea levels to the installation of new electric vehicle charging stations, yet the need for additional funding was still highlighted as one of the most pressing needs facing the Maine Climate Council at its Dec. 1 meeting.

“With our climate action plan as our guide, we will be the generation that protects this precious place we all call home,” Mills told the council at the start of its meeting.


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