AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature returned to work Tuesday, passing one of two major spending packages that would add about $41 million to the state’s current two-year budget, with much of the funding aimed at helping those with disabilities, the elderly and people grappling with opioid use disorders.
There was little partisan rancor on the first of what is expected to be several days of a special session in which lawmakers will try to complete work on several key unresolved bills. The Legislature adjourned May 2 amid gridlock between Democrats who wanted funding for voter-approved Medicaid expansion and Republicans who wanted to slow voter-approved minimum wage increases.
Late Tuesday, Republican Gov. Paul LePage again introduced a bill to slow wage increases and decouple them from the Consumer Price Index. The Senate could vote on that bill Wednesday.
The $41 million spending bill combines several measures, including one intended to move 300 people off a state waiting list for services for the disabled at a rate of 50 people a month starting in October. Also included in L.D. 925 was $600,000 from the Fund for a Healthy Maine to help fund school-based health centers, which had previously lost state funding. LePage has 10 days to either sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. LePage could also line-item veto parts of the spending package, but would need to do so within 48 hours of receiving it.
Still to be debated are several borrowing measures that could go to statewide votes in November, including $100 million for roads, bridges and port facilities. That transportation bonding package is important for the Maine Department of Transportation, which counts on about $100 million of borrowing each year.
The bill is also time-sensitive, according to transportation officials. If approved by June 30, the end of the state’s fiscal year, the state can apply for millions of dollars in federal matching funds. Other bonding proposals, including ones to expand classrooms and laboratories within the University of Maine System and to provide matching funds to cities and towns for wastewater treatment plant improvements, are also still in play.
The borrowing bills would support about 3,800 construction jobs statewide, according to advocates, including University of Maine System Chancellor James Page.
Another $21 million spending package consists of three bills that would set state funding for county jails and increase state reimbursement rates for some 4,000 direct care workers, including those working in nursing homes and group homes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. That bill is awaiting a technical amendment and is expected to pass both bodies easily Wednesday before being sent to LePage.
Lawmakers have yet to reach agreement on other bills, including one to fix an error in the state’s budget law that has locked up funding for candidates running under the state’s Clean Election Act. Also Wednesday, lawmakers are expected to take up a bill to make clear that municipalities must enact ordinances if they want to allow medical marijuana caregivers to open storefront businesses.
Lawmakers were expected to return to Augusta at 10 a.m. Wednesday to resume work, although the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee was voting late Tuesday on other spending bills that need their approval before being sent to the full Legislature.
Maine State House