Panel Approves Spending Of Nearly $1B In Covid-19 Relief

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Maine Legislature's budget-writing committee voted along party lines on a plan for spending nearly $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds that tracks closely with a plan laid out by the governor.

But Democratic Gov. Janet Mills urged the panel to negotiate a compromise that could gain the support of two-thirds majority of lawmakers to go into effect immediately, instead of 90 days after lawmakers adjourn.

“If we allow three more months to pass simply because we couldn’t find consensus, then that could mean the difference between a business surviving or failing, between a parent being able to afford child care so they can go back to work or not, between expanding broadband to rural communities or not,” Mills said. “The stakes are high. The implications are real.”

The proposal includes money for economic recovery and job training; child care and education; and broadband, affordable housing and energy efficiency, among other things.

Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, his party’s leading House committee member, said he’s concerned about using one-time federal funds to create ongoing state spending, causing problems down the road.

Republicans proposed a similar alternative that includes more pandemic relief for businesses. One sticking point was that $20 million of $50 million in funding for building or renovating affordable housing must go to firms that have agreements with organized labor.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said he hoped negotiations would continue over the weekend before lawmakers reconvene Monday.

But Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, Senate chair of the budget committee, said any further changes will have to be made in the form of amendments once floor debate begins on the proposal.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.