AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement Sunday afternoon on a revised $8.5 billion two-year state budget that will provide $300 COVID-19 relief payments to most Maine workers.
The budget bill negotiated by the Legislature’s budget committee will likely go before both chambers on Wednesday. A deal was largely in place over the past week, but the budget panel formally reached an agreement over the weekend after weeks of negotiations.
Notable new budget items include COVID-19 relief payments of up to $300 for approximately 500,000 residents who filed W-2s last year, which stem from a Republican effort to offer benefits to Maine workers making less than $75,000 — or $150,000 if they filed jointly — comparable to the tax relief the Legislature already provided to people who received unemployment benefits. The payments are not expected until late fall.
“Those that were classified as essential workers, many were employed in the economy in ways that kept the economy afloat,” said Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford. “They may have worked under stressful circumstances, but they worked, and this is designed to acknowledge that work.”
The new budget would replace an $8.3 billion bill that Democrats passed along party lines in late March to the frustration of minority Republicans. Gov. Janet Mills put forward a revised $8.8 billion proposal last month, along with a $1.1 billion economic recovery bill, after evolving pandemic conditions and a federal stimulus bill led state forecasters to revise revenue projections by nearly $1 billion.
The proposed budget would meet state school funding goals for the first time since a 2004 referendum required the state to cover 55 percent of local education costs and meet a goal to send 5 percent of state tax revenue to cities and towns. The school funding, like many elements of the governor’s budget, drew bipartisan support and passed unanimously in committee last week, but Republicans expressed concerns about overall spending levels and new state employee positions.
Lawmakers also voted Sunday to move forward with Mills’ proposed transportation bonds worth $100 million, but not two other bond proposals related to conservation and forestry. The budget committee instead chose to put $40 million over 10 years toward the Land for Maine’s Future conservation program.