Workers fill oil trucks at the Sprague Terminal on Monday in South Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Negotiations continued Monday over emergency legislation to provide heat and energy assistance to struggling Mainers – a proposal that could total nearly half a billion dollars and include another round of relief checks.

A draft plan floated late last week called for sending $450 checks to individuals earning up to $75,000 and $900 to married couples filing jointly earning up to $150,000. The draft was first reported by the Bangor Daily News.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations who insisted on anonymity because of the delicate nature of the talks said the proposal changed considerably over the weekend, although would not say how. It wasn’t clear Monday afternoon when the final details would be released.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is negotiating the plan with incoming leaders of the Legislature from both parties. The officials are aiming to have an emergency bill ready for a vote on Wednesday, when the 131st Legislature will be sworn into office. To do that, Mills will need the bipartisan support of two-thirds of the Legislature, which would allow the bill to take effect immediately so assistance can be sent this winter.

If that happens, it would be the first time in nearly three decades lawmakers have approved an emergency bill immediately after being seated.

Both Republicans and Democrats are saying these negotiations will likely set the tone for the next two years.


Economic issues, especially inflation and the high cost of home heating fuel going into the winter, were a major concern during the last campaign cycle and both parties have embraced another round of assistance.

Several legislative leaders were mum on the status of negotiations on Monday, but last week they spoke generally about the negotiations.

Incoming House Minority Leader, Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said on Thursday that his caucus wants to make sure relief is provided to middle-class workers and families.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, alluded to changes requested by Republicans that could be politically fraught for Mills and Democrats. He declined to elaborate.

“There were some items Republicans were a little bit worried about up front, so I’m honestly not sure what she’s going to do,” Stewart said on Thursday. “There are some things that need to happen. The question is whether the politics is going to get in the way of any of it. We’ll see.”

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, noted how unusual it was to be trying to negotiate a spending package before new lawmakers are seated and committees are formed.


“We have to do something that’s meaningful immediately,” Jackson said on Friday. “There’s some back and forth and stuff like that, but we really got to wrap it up and all come together and do it.”

“It shouldn’t be that hard for people to come together and understand we have to do these things and get it done,” he added.

Jackson didn’t respond to a request for an interview on Monday.

Last year, the Legislature approved using about half of the state’s $1.2 billion surplus to send refunds to about 850,000 taxpayers to help them afford the higher cost of goods. In her budget, Mills credited Republicans with the idea, but was later forced to accept a compromise agreement after Republicans demanded that the income limits be increased from $75,000 for individuals to $100,000.

As a result, an additional 50,000 Mainers received checks.

Last week, revenue forecasters predicted that the state would finish the current fiscal year, ending June 30, with an additional $283 million. The level of spending originally being contemplated would exceed that amount, requiring additional sources to fill the gap. The state’s rainy day fund, which is currently at a historic high of roughly $1 billion, could be tapped.


According to the draft proposal, the emergency heating and energy assistance program could total $447 million. But negotiations are ongoing and the final package is likely to change.

The draft plan included $65 million for the Maine State Housing Authority, including $40 million to supplement the federal Home Energy Assistance Program and $10 million for non-HEAP-eligible households.

The draft plan also called for $15 million to support emergency housing and emergency shelters through the winter. That funding is intended to help fill the gap that is expected to be left when federal rental assistance ends in the coming weeks.

The person with knowledge of the negotiations warned that the proposal is still a work in progress.

Heating oil is used by 60% of all households in the state, making Maine the most oil-reliant state. But fuel prices – and inflation in general – have shown signs of easing in recent weeks.

As of Nov. 28, the statewide average price for heating oil was $5.08 a gallon, down from $5.71 a gallon two weeks prior. The cost of kerosene, however, dropped to $7.05 a gallon from $7.23 two weeks ago. And propane was $3.30 a gallon, down slightly from $3.32.



Some Democrats are calling for more targeted assistance than the $850 checks issued earlier this year, while Republicans are trying to include as many middle-class families as possible.

And electricity consumers will see a price hike as well.

Beginning on Jan. 1, the new “standard offer” supply rate for home and small-business customers in Central Maine Power’s service area will rise from 11.8 cents per kilowatt hour to 17.6 cents, a 49% hike. The supply rate makes up 60% of a consumer’s bill.

The last time an incoming Legislature enacted an emergency bill so soon after being seated was in 1994.

The 117th Legislature was sworn into office on Dec. 8 and the following day approved a bill to address possible closures of the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Kittery and the U.S. Naval Air Station in Brunswick. That bill, sponsored by Republican John McKernan, allocated $100,000 for community-based responses to the base closing process.

Emergency bills also were passed in December after the seating of the 114th, 115th and 116th legislatures to address issues ranging from insurance maximums, federal block grants, setting fees for legislative publications, paying additional elections expenses and extending a commission to study health care costs.


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