AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to restore $40 million of state aid to municipalities passed quietly into law at midnight Tuesday.
The Democrat-led measure was approved earlier this month in the House and Senate. It funds the restoration of state revenue sharing with $21 million from the state’s rainy day fund, $4 million from a fund designed to accumulate budget surplus with the eventual goal of reducing the state income tax and $15 million from new, unappropriated revenue predicted in a December revenue forecast.
Feb. 25 was the governor’s deadline to veto the bill, sign it or let it become law without his signature. The governor took no action, according to his press secretary, Adrienne Bennett.
LePage opposed the bill, but its broad bipartisan support in earlier votes indicated the Legislature — it passed resoundingly in both chambers — would have overridden his veto. In the wake of the bill’s passage, the governor has pledged to withhold voter-approved bonds, including those meant to spur $100 million worth of transportation infrastructure projects. The governor cites the concern of Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett, who says a reduction in the rainy day fund will result in a less-favorable bond rating.
Democrats on the Appropriations Committee have pushed back on Millett’s claim, saying that the state’s bond rating does not rise and fall on any one factor alone.
If the $40 million had not been restored, total state revenue sharing would have fell below $20 million in 2015. That would have been a nearly 80 percent reduction in state aid to municipalities in two years.
Town and city officials, as well as the state’s leading lobby group for municipalities, said they could not shoulder the burden of any more cuts to revenue sharing. Recent cuts to the program have caused reductions to local services and increased property taxes, they said, and further cuts would only exacerbate the situation.
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Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.