A last-minute bill to change Maine’s school funding formula to help struggling mill towns was amended amid confusion and urban-rural divide by the House of Representatives on Wednesday night.

It was proposed by Gov. Paul LePage is a response to recent paper mill closures. Last month, the mill in Madison announced that it will shut down in May, laying off 214 workers.

It’s a product of negotiations between LePage and the legislative delegation around Madison, including Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock.

The collaborative effort aims to help towns that have seen large property tax decreases after mill closures or downward valuations by increasing school funding, providing $900,000 in surplus education money to Madison and other affected towns on a one-time basis. That isn’t terribly controversial.

However, LePage’s version of the bill also makes permanent, more generic changes to Maine’s school funding formula to trigger emergency funding when a town sees a loss of 4.5 percent in valuation attributable to one employer.

That version passed in the Senate, but many Democrats took issue with that latter portion, with Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, narrowly failing to pass an amendment that limited those formula changes to a year amid concern that funding would be diverted from other communities to fill gaps. McCabe heard similar concerns from Democrats in a party caucus before a House vote.

However, he warned against changes, saying the deal with LePage is “tied together with thread” and that it came up in this last-minute fashion because the governor, who has been feuding with McCabe, refused to fund an earlier valuation bill sponsored by McCabe. Whittemore is the chief sponsor of this bill.

But Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, came out of that caucus and proposed the one-year amendment, winning wide support in a 110-39 House vote against the Somerset County delegation. It now goes to the Senate, which would have to agree.

How local legislators voted

The measure passed 110 – 39.
Rep. Bruce A. Bickford (R-Auburn) X
Rep. Russell J. Black (R-Wilton) Y
Rep. Heidi E. Brooks (D-Lewiston) Y
Rep. Andrew Russell Buckland (R-Farmington) Y
Rep. Paul Chace (R-Durham) Y
Rep. Dale J. Crafts (R-Lisbon) N
Rep. Kathleen R. J. Dillingham (R-Oxford) N
Rep. Paul E. Gilbert (D-Jay) Y
Rep. Phyllis A. Ginzler (R-Bridgton) Y
Rep. Jared F. Golden (D-Lewiston) N
Rep. Randall Adam Greenwood (R-Wales) Y
Rep. Frances M. Head (R-Bethel) Y
Rep. Lloyd C. Herrick (R-Paris) Y
Rep. Michel A. Lajoie (D-Lewiston) N
Rep. Michael D. McClellan (R-Raymond) Y
Rep. Gina M. Melaragno (D-Auburn) N
Rep. Matthew J. Peterson (D-Rumford) Y
Rep. Richard A. Pickett (R-Dixfield) Y
Rep. Margaret R. Rotundo (D-Lewiston) Y
Rep. David P. Sawicki (R-Auburn) N
Rep. Thomas H. Skolfield (R-Weld) Y
Rep. Jeffrey L. Timberlake (R-Turner) N
Rep. Nathan J. Wadsworth (R-Hiram) Y
Rep. Tom J. Winsor (R-Norway) Y
Rep. Stephen J. Wood (R-Greene) Y

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