Mills submits plan to legislature to spend $ 1 billion in federal stimulus assistance



The Mills administration on Friday submitted its proposal to spend nearly $ 1 billion in federal stimulus dollars in the legislature, setting in motion what should be a rushed review of the massive spending plan announced by Governor Janet Mills a month ago.

Maine is expected to receive about $ 4.5 billion from the $ 1.9 trillion US bailout package passed by Congress according to parties in March as a way to boost the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. About $ 3.5 billion of that total will go towards pandemic response, unemployment benefits, stimulus payments to individuals, relief payments to businesses or city and county governments.

Mills proposed to split the state government’s share of $ 997.5 million among three target areas: $ 258.4 million for short-term economic stimulus programs, $ 294.5 million for initiatives long-term economic benefits and $ 418 million for infrastructure improvements.

The funding would be used for everything from economic stimulus grants for businesses to hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband expansion, energy efficiency upgrades and capital improvements in state parks. , hatcheries and state-run wastewater treatment plants.

“It is an impressive responsibility to figure out how to use these time-bound funds in a way that spurs economic growth in the short and long term, in a way that will benefit everyone in Maine,” Kirsten Figueroa, Commissioner of the department. administrative and financial services, told the Committee on Credit and Financial Affairs. “The administration has created this roadmap which is in line with the intentions of Congress when it passed this transformative legislation to enable states to move their economies forward through and beyond the throes of the pandemic.”

Mills unveiled much of the plan on May 4, but the details submitted to legislators this week have been refined based on guidance from the US Treasury, Figueroa said. Most of the spending was intended to be pilot projects or one-time investments to avoid ongoing spending obligations based, in large part, on recommendations from a state economic stimulus committee and an economic development plan. over 10 years.

Friday’s meeting was the Budget Drafting Committee’s first presentation on the nearly $ 1 billion plan and comes less than two weeks before the legislature rises.

The dozens of initiatives contained in the plan include:

• $ 21 million to expand broadband Internet access, to which will be added $ 129 million in additional federal funds for broadband infrastructure;

• $ 80 million in grants and loans to businesses still struggling with the pandemic;

• $ 105 million for vocational and technical education, manpower programs and higher education initiatives;

• $ 50 million to support Maine’s three “heritage industries” of fishing, agriculture and forestry;

• $ 80 million to replenish the state unemployment trust fund and avoid a potential 60% increase in corporate unemployment taxes due to pandemic-related spending;

• $ 5 million for a “remote worker welcome program” to retain people who moved to Maine during the pandemic and attract more remote workers;

• $ 50 million to repair roads and bridges;

• $ 50 million to upgrade buildings, roads, shelters and other infrastructure in Maine State Parks.

Figueroa noted that $ 22 million of the total will go to the administration, monitoring and reporting required by the federal government.

Lawmakers on the budget drafting committee face an extreme lack of time to review the plan as well as a mid-budget package of changes submitted by the Mills administration. The legislature is expected to adjourn by June 16, and every day of the next week is occupied by sessions of the House and Senate, leaving the committee with little uninterrupted time to consider the billion dollar spending plan. .

No public hearing was scheduled for the bill on Friday, LD 1733.

“We’re trying to figure this out, but we don’t have a firm public hearing date on the calendar yet,” said Senator Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, co-chair of the committee.

Several committee members expressed concerns about the late timing of the stimulus spending plan.

Representative Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, also asked if Figueroa or other heads of state agencies were concerned about the ability to handle the sudden addition or expansion of so many programs. A former finance and DAFS commissioner, Millett likened the situation to “changing the tires on the plane while they fly it”.

Figueroa responded that after 16 months of navigating a pandemic, state officials have grown accustomed to “flying while building.”

“We are up to the challenge and have considerations for the amount of work, but we are also excited and ready for the impact, improvements and transformation that will occur as a result of all of the activities we have talked about,” said Figueroa. “There are long-standing issues that people who worked in state government … have talked about for years and there are opportunities here now.”

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