AUGUSTA (AP) – As Gov. John Baldacci moved again to broaden his short-term relief plan for Maine dairy farmers, the Taxation Committee agreed Friday to delay its consideration of a milk-handling tax he opposes until next year.

The latest addition to Baldacci’s aid plan could offer up to $3 million in subsidy payments to financially beleaguered dairy farmers from October through next January.

The source of the money was not specified and administration officials said federal funding was one possibility.

Another potential source cited was pending court settlements unrelated to agriculture that could provide a windfall for the state.

As a backup provision in proposed legislation, the governor would be authorized to borrow up to $2 million to channel to farmers, if needed.

The end-of-year payments would be triggered if a base price of milk falls below a threshold of $16.94 per hundredweight.

Just one week ago, Baldacci announced his desire to expand relief payments to Maine dairy farmers by $3.2 million dollars through September.

At that time, he told a group of farmers invited to a State House news conference that he considered direct payments to milk producers part of a multistage effort to bolster Maine’s dairy industry.

A bill signed into law on March 20 authorized a first installment of $725,000 for dairy relief.

Maine has slightly more than 400 dairy farms.

Baldacci has said he would veto a milk-handling fee if such a proposal reached his desk.

As part of a longer-range approach to farm problems, the governor has proposed the creation of a task force to examine the sustainability of Maine’s dairy industry.

In addition, Baldacci has proposed a $2 million bond issue for a Farms for the Future Program, designed to provide selected farms with business services.

He also wants to provide up to $1.3 million for the Finance Authority of Maine to use to guarantee the deferral by a bank of up to 12 months’ worth of debt payments.

Taxation Committee members said Friday they would not rule out returning to a milk-handling fee proposal next year if other ways to bolster dairy farms in the state were not found.

They also urged the administration to lay out a broad agenda for the promised dairy industry task force.

AP-ES-04-11-03 1713EDT

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