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Maine legislature passes supplemental budget with late-night vote

Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 7:38 AM EST
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) - The Maine legislature finally approved a compromise deal on a supplemental budget after the House failed to pass the original bill Thursday evening. The bill now heads to Gov. Janet Mills’ desk.

The vote happened as the legislature gathered for a second day — that stretched into a third — at the Augusta Civic Center. The Senate finally adjourned just after 1:30 a.m. Friday, followed minutes later by the House.

The approved budget includes:

  • $47 million to exempt unemployment benefits from state income taxes
  • $100 million to exempt Maine businesses who got relief from the Paycheck Protection Program from paying state income taxes on that money
  • $30 million in state and federal money for nonprofit providers who serve Maine seniors and people with disabilities. The money is targeted for providers that did not get PPP funds, state grants or other relief
  • $8.2 million for the state Rainy Day Fund
  • Money to hire a homeless veterans coordinator and maintain veteran cemeteries
  • Establishes a fund to address growing concerns about PFAS, known as “forever chemicals”
  • Invests in a new child welfare information system to improve efficiency and help DHHS track and share data

“This supplemental budget is a win for everyone,” said Senate President Troy Jackson. “It works for businesses, workers, direct care providers, and veterans. It’s a reminder of what is possible when we don’t retreat to our political corners, but instead, put Maine people at the heart of our agenda.”

“Today’s vote is a huge step forward for Mainers,” added House Speaker Ryan Fecteau. “After a year of uncertainty, the Legislature is now delivering some certainty for Maine people. We’ve passed a bipartisan supplemental budget with a great deal of tax relief for 28,000 businesses, the 250,000 Mainers they employ and over 160,000 Mainers who were out of work in 2020.”

Sen. Paul Davis, Senate Republican Lead on the Appropriations Committee said “Many weeks of negotiations and some last-minute bargaining have resulted in an agreement that both parties can live with and that mean substantial tax relief for Mainers.”

Sen. Rick Bennett was one of two Republicans who voted in favor of the original plan as well.

“Something approaching $150 million in tax relief for struggling Maine workers and struggling Maine businesses, and that’s the priority,” Bennett said. “Maine businesses right now and Maine taxpayers are putting their taxes together, and they need predictability, they need certainty.”

House Republicans said they would soon propose a tax exemption similar to the one in the approved bill, but that would include all Maine taxpayers.

“Republicans will now focus on state tax relief for all Maine workers, not some,” said Republican Appropriations Lead Sawin Millett. “The tax provision that provides a $10,200 income tax credit for 160,000 unemployed workers needs to be expanded to everyone who performed their duty to ensure essential services were provided for the rest of us, staffing our grocery stores, teaching our children, and working the front lines in our hospitals among countless others. We are all in this together and our tax policy, going into the biennial budget, needs to reflect that important reality.”

Maine House Republicans will be proposing a tax exemption similar to the unemployment exemption contained in this budget that will provide relief to every Mainer that files taxes.

The Senate joined the House in rejecting a Republican move to rescind the coronavirus state of emergency and emergency power granted to Gov. Janet Mills a year ago. ”If we want to check her authority right now, we have the ability to do that do that; we can pass a bill,” Democratic Sen. Heather Sanborn said.

Sanborn suggested that the measure was untimely, at best. ”We’re in session right now. We have our full legislative powers. We’re doing the work every day,” Sanborn said.

Beyond debates over the budget and emergency powers, legislators also passed two Democratic leadership priorities.

One was a Coronavirus Bill of Rights, which requires state-regulated insurance companies to cover screening, testing and vaccines at no cost to patients.

The second requires a racial impact study of all new laws.

“This allows us to understand the impact to our racial, indigenous, and populations of color before we enact any law that may cause further harm,” Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross said.

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