May 28, 2020
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Janet Mills and Maine lawmakers reach pared-back spending deal prompted by coronavirus

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Sen. Cathy Breen (left), D-Falmouth, speak at a press conference at Knight's Pond in Cumberland in this April 27, 2015, file photo.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, March 16, eight Maine residents have been confirmed positive and nine others are presumed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature’s budget panel unanimously agreed Monday to a $73 million spending plan focused on raising wages for health care workers and increasing testing capacity amid a coronavirus outbreak prompting an adjournment set for Tuesday.

The package includes $20 million in state spending on health care priorities that Democrats and Republicans have been calling for all session. About $15 million of that consists of rate increases for direct health care providers for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as services for people with underlying health conditions and disabilities.

An additional $1 million would go to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to expand coronavirus testing at the state’s laboratory and to hire more epidemiologists and nurses to respond to the pandemic. It includes funding for 20 additional employees for Maine’s embattled child welfare system, including 16 more caseworkers.

Members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee characterized the package as being responsive to the coronavirus in that it will allow the Legislature to adjourn — for now — leaving the state with the resources it needs to combat the virus while meeting other obligations.

“I don’t think I need to tell anybody in this room that we are living in really unusual times, and this document we’re going to be working on is certainly a product of those times,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the co-chair of the panel.

The package includes $17.4 million for the state’s rainy day fund, a roughly $3 million decrease from what was included in Mills’ original $127 million supplemental budget package advanced in February. It contains roughly the same amount of public education funding, bringing the state’s share of essential K-12 costs from 51 percent to 52 percent as the original proposal. It retains the $10 million Mills put forward for transportation funding to fix Maine’s roads and bridges.

The spending package also includes a $120 million bond proposal, with $105 million slated for Maine’s transportation system and $15 million for broadband infrastructure. Both were items put forward by Mills earlier this year and approved by the budget committee last week.

The Legislature will vote on the proposal Tuesday before adjourning indefinitely with tentative plans to return sometimes in 2020. All other committee meetings, work sessions, confirmations and public hearings are canceled. Lawmakers were talking about putting additional money toward public health over the weekend as leadership worked to broker a deal.

Mills signaled two weeks ago that additional money for the Department of Health and Human Services could be possible in the budget after a state committee revised a revenue forecast for next year to include $40 million worth of revenues. That’s uncertain now amid a downturn prompted by the virus. The spending deal does not take that projected surplus into account.

As of Monday, there are 17 cases of coronavirus in Maine. Roughly 100 Mainers were in self-isolation or quarantine as of Sunday night, according to the Maine CDC.

 


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