Gov. Janet Mills plans to release a two-year state budget proposal Wednesday. And she’ll do it with Democratic majorities in the Legislature and an expected revenue surplus.

But Mills said Tuesday that she won’t be rolling out any big new programs and doesn’t expect much controversy.

Gov. Janet Mills during an inauguration ceremony on Jan. 4 in Augusta. Mills said Tuesday that she won’t be rolling out any big new programs in a two-year state budget proposal. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“There’s not going to be a lot of drama,” Mills told the Press Herald. “We are taking a cautious approach. … We won’t announce any major new initiatives.”

Mills made similar comments during a radio interview on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” program Tuesday, while providing some other hints about her plan. “We will be proposing to carry through some of the initiatives we began in the current biennial budget, which I think are already significant,” she said.

While Mills did not reveal many details during the radio interview, she said she planned to continue investments made in public education, teacher pay, universal free school lunch and toward universal pre-kindergarten. She said the budget proposal also would include investments in housing and child care.

The governor is expected to brief legislative leaders on her proposal Wednesday morning before unveiling the two-year budget proposal at a news conference at 1 p.m. Once submitted, the proposal will be sent to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee for review, public hearings and possible changes.


Leaders of both parties in the House and the Senate said they had not been given any details as of Tuesday afternoon. But they all have priorities they hope will be addressed in the spending plan.

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said Republicans would continue to advocate for more funding for nursing homes and programs that serve people with disabilities, while holding the line on taxes. They were critical of Mills’ recently signed heating assistance package for diverting funds from those needs.

“Governor Mills has stated publicly that there will not be a tax increase while she is governor and we plan to hold her to that promise,” Stewart said. “You can expect Senate Republicans to remain firm with this next budget on the things we were deeply troubled with in the (winter heating relief plan). We will be ensuring that the money will be restored for nursing homes and Medicaid wait lists for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities that was moved out to finally fulfill our promises to Maine’s most vulnerable populations.”

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said Democrats will be looking to make investments to address a range of needs.

“This session, we must continue to make good on our commitment to property taxpayers, municipalities and schools, while also investing in health care from long-term care to emergency medical services,” Jackson said. “At the same time, we must do more to support working families by investing in child care, improving access to high-speed reliable internet, creating good-paying jobs and embracing new economic opportunities. And we cannot forget about our responsibility to address the issues in our courts, indigent legal services system and child welfare system.”

House Majority Leader Maureen “Mo” Terry, D-Gorham, hopes the budget will continue to make progress on improving funding for indigent legal services, tribal sovereignty and housing, among other things.


“I’d like to see us continue the work that we’ve done,” Terry said. “I’d like to see us do some of the things that we missed out on last session. I’d like to see at least those discussions to continue.”

House Republican Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham declined to discuss the budget Tuesday.


Democrats could pass a budget without Republican support because they control a majority of seats in both chambers. But a so-called majority budget would not take effect for 90 days, which means it would need to be approved by April to prevent a disruption in state services when the new fiscal year begins July 1. Getting enough Republican buy-in to adopt a budget with the support of two-thirds of the Legislature would allow the budget to take effect immediately.

Democrats passed a status quo budget during the 2020 pandemic without Republican support, but later debated and passed a supplemental budget to spend additional revenue.

The current two-year budget totals $9.4 billion. A strong revenue forecast could prompt calls for increased spending and expanded programs, but Mills has expressed concerns about a potential recession and has called for a fiscally cautious budget.


In late November, revenue forecasters predicted a $283 million surplus in the current fiscal year. That revenue was used to help pay for the $473 million emergency winter relief plan that was approved by lawmakers on Jan. 4.

Forecasters also increased their revenue projection by another $489 million over the next biennium, projecting revenues of $10.5 billion in revenue next fiscal year and $11.5 billion the following year.

Mills told the Press Herald in a wide-ranging interview in December that she would like to continue offering two years of free community college after introducing the program last year, but it wasn’t clear on Tuesday whether that proposal will be in the budget. The program originally cost $20 million and at least one bill has been submitted to continue that program.


In the Maine Public interview Tuesday, Mills expressed reluctance to increase the reimbursement rates for lawyers representing indigent clients who cannot afford an attorney.

When asked about the state’s indigent legal services, Mills said she is writing to law firms throughout the state and calling on them to designate attorneys to take on indigent clients. Taking such cases could be the only way a young attorney can gain courtroom experience, given the backlog of civil and criminal cases stemming from the pandemic, she said.


Mills, who said she had 14 years of experience representing indigent clients, said more experienced attorneys could focus on more complex cases. She pushed back against calls to nearly double the reimbursement rate for all lawyers representing indigent clients from $80 an hour to $150, though she seemed open to providing higher rates to more experienced lawyers.

The state has a constitutional obligation to ensure adequate legal representation for people accused of crimes. And the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has filed a lawsuit arguing that Maine is failing to meet that obligation.

Assistant Minority Leader Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, has sponsored a bill to increase reimbursement rates to $150 an hour. And House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross told “Maine Calling” on Monday that she expected to see additional funding for the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services in the budget.

“I hope we will see, I believe that we will see, some funding for MCILS in the governor’s budget, soon to be released this week,” she said. “I think the Legislature itself will move to fund an increase in the hourly rates for attorneys but also to fully support access to justice that is required by the Constitution. I think that we will make sure that that is a top priority.”


Mills also expressed reluctance to make bureaucratic changes to the Department of Health and Humans Services to better prevent child abuse and neglect in the wake of an increase in child deaths.


Mills was asked on “Maine Calling” to respond to the child welfare ombudsman’s report that cited “substantial issues” in more than half of the 83 child welfare cases reviewed, describing a “downward spiral in child welfare practice.” The report has intensified calls for systemic reforms, either by instituting an independent inspector general to oversee child welfare or by making child welfare its own, standalone agency.

Mills said she plans to meet with Christine Alberi, the child welfare ombudsman, as well as child welfare workers, before determining next steps.  She noted that her administration had increased child welfare staffing by 27% in recent years and provided more support on nights and weekends, although staff turnover remains a problem.

“Whatever we can do to save the life and welfare of one child is extremely important to me,” she said. “‘I’m not sure it means creating another bureaucracy or creating a new position. But I want to get on the ground and find out what’s going on. We know you don’t have to be an expert to know that the prevalence of fentanyl and drugs of that sort and methamphetamine in households and families across the state of Maine is having a terrible effect on children.”

Staff Writer Penelope Overton contributed to this story.

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