State lawmakers on verge of passing supplemental budget

Published: Mar. 17, 2020 at 7:53 PM EDT
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Maine state lawmakers met one final time before adjourning Tuesday.

It means they'll wrap up the session about a month early.

"Thank you, each and every one of one you, for leaving your homes and your families to be here today to do this work," said House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, as she opened session Tuesday morning.

The biggest item on the agenda was the supplemental budget.

"I take this situation very seriously," said Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford. "I think it's important that we get our work done, we get out of here, we don't actually create any further potential for the spread here in Augusta, and we actually have done our job as we took our oath to do."

Millett is House Republican Lead on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee that worked with the administration to reach a deal both parties are pleased with.

"It was a good experience," said Millett. "Everybody came together, put a lot of time into it. A little give and take, but I think we're ready today to finalize and get out of here. And that I think is important for not only completing our work but being away the large crowd gatherings that we're accustomed to."

The budget is $73 million, significantly less than the original proposal.

It includes $1 million for the Maine CDC to help fight the coronavirus, and more than $17 million for the Budget Stabilization Fund to help with any future coronavirus costs.

There's also $15 million for direct care worker rate increases, $38 million for pre-K-12 education, and $10 million for roads and bridges.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, says it's important that they get this is before adjourning.

"The Legislature is not going to be here so we wouldn't be able to appropriate funds," said Jackson. "We got to give the Administration some ability to deal with things as they come up and that's what the intent is. We're just trying to cover all of the bases knowing fully well that we don't know everything that could happen between here and some future date."

The Legislature is also looking to take up coronavirus-related bills. One aims to help with the unemployment the virus may cause here in Maine by expanding unemployment insurance. Another would allow for $11 million to be transferred from the General Fund Reserve for coronavirus funding needs.

The deal reached by lawmakers and the administration leaves the door open for the Legislature to be called back into emergency session and all lawmakers expect that to happen; it's just a matter of when.