AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills released a scaled-back $140 million borrowing proposal on Friday focusing only on transportation and land conservation amid an influx of federal money that will likely be used to pay for economic development and broadband initiatives.
The plan from the Democratic governor was the second of three major spending proposals to be laid out this spring. Mills laid out the state’s plan for $1.1 billion in stimulus funds under the American Rescue Plan earlier this week. She is expected to soon release a change package to a two-year budget passed earlier this year making use of a massive revenue surplus.
Mills teased up to $200 million in borrowing in her budget address in February. But her stimulus plan may replace many of the economic development initiatives that she outlined in that speech. She will now ask lawmakers to send $100 million in bonds for roads and bridges plus $40 million for a nearly depleted Land for Maine Future conservation fund to voters.
It sets up an ambitious agenda from Mills as the fiscal tides have turned on the heels of federal bailouts after a year of uncertainty and initially dismal revenue projections. Maine’s revenue forecast was recently revised upward by more than $920 million over two years.
That is likely to be the subject of the most wrangling in Augusta. Mills has said her plan for that money will focus on health care and school spending, while legislative Republicans have stated a desire for income and property tax cuts as well as more aid to cities and towns. Democrats have signaled a desire to tilt the package more toward spending than tax cuts.
Senate Republicans will wait until the bonds are discussed in the Legislature to comment on Mills’ plan, a spokesperson said.
Mills’ proposed transportation bond is coupled with another $50 million for roads, bridges and other core infrastructure in Mills’ stimulus plan, which also requires legislative approval. Maine has borrowed for transportation projects since 2016 and the funding mechanism is included as a matter of course in all Department of Transportation work plans.
Conservation bonds are less broadly popular among the Legislature. While bipartisan groups of lawmakers have perennially backed borrowing on the subject, legislative Republicans held up a Mills-backed conservation bond along with two others in 2019 while only allowing a transportation bond to go before voters.
The governor touted the support of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and environmental groups for that bond, which she said was being presented in honor of George Smith, who championed the Land for Maine’s Future program as the longtime executive director of the sportsman’s group. He died in February after a four-year battle with ALS.