AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills covered a lot of ground in her State of the State address on Tuesday, laying out items likely to appear in a spending plan, signaling some economic caution and making surprising comments on potential changes to utility regulation.
The Democratic governor’s speech lasted more than an hour and consumed 28 typed pages, striking a balance between highlighting an “ambitious” agenda and perhaps signaling some restraint in an election year in which Republicans are assailing state spending.
Here are some highlights of Mills’ address from the Bangor Daily News political team. An annotation of the speech as delivered follows the text of this story.
A soon-to-come Mills spending plan could include funding more child welfare caseworker positions, higher education spending and $20 million in savings. The governor has been mostly quiet about a pending supplemental budget proposal, which must be delivered to the Legislature soon for timing’s sake due to a short session ending in April.
Mills teased a few proposals likely to be in it, including 20 more caseworker positions in Maine’s embattled child welfare system, a higher education funding increase that would result in $5.1 million more for the university system and adding $20 million to the state’s rainy day fund.
Maine currently has a budget surplus of $120 million with minority Republicans still upset by the level of spending in the nearly $8 billion, two-year budget passed in 2019 and already signaling a desire for more in the rainy day fund. The number attached to the new package — and probably many of the priorities — will drive debate this year.
Mills balanced an ‘ambitious’ agenda with lines that could be read as reining in Democratic expectations. The governor called her agenda “ambitious,” leaning on health care initiatives including last year’s Medicaid expansion and climate goals, adding she may have doubters who say, “We can’t do all of this now. Government should do less, not more.”
She balanced this by citing a desire to remain “cautious” on Maine’s economy. That can be read in many ways. One is in the context of Democratic politics. After the party won full control of the State House in the 2018 election, many progressives wanted to make aggressive moves toward income tax reform and gun control that were quickly blunted by Mills.
Mills told Maine Public before this speech that major reforms are unlikely in the short legislative session of 2020, so restraint seems to be at the top of her mind. Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, by contrast, said Tuesday that his party left “work undone” in 2019.
The governor attributed a quote to a famous politician. It looks to predate him. While encouraging lawmakers to work together, Mills attributed this quote to legendary U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill: “Any fool can tear down a barn. But it takes a good carpenter to build one.”
The quote looks to predate O’Neill, a longtime Massachusetts congressman who was speaker from 1977 to 1987. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson attributed a variation of it to Sam Rayburn of Texas, another revered House speaker, in 1968 remarks. The exact quote was uttered by a different Democratic congressman in a 1970s hearing.
BDN writers Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews contributed to this report.