$1B Stimulus Spending Ok'd; Pine Tree Power Veto Sustained

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed off Monday on nearly $1 billion in federal pandemic stimulus spending, but the bill failed to gain enough support to go into effect immediately. Lawmakers also sustained the governor’s veto of the creation of a consumer-owned electric utility.

As the legislative session wrapped up, lawmakers took up the spending plan aimed at giving the state economy and workers a boost after a global pandemic ravaged the state over more than a year.

The Democratic-controlled House and Senate approved the plan on party-line votes after Democrats and Republicans failed to hash their differences.

Mills said she was disappointed that there wasn't enough bipartisan support to allow the money to flow immediately with a two-thirds majority. Instead, the law takes effect in 90 days after the Legislature adjourned Monday evening.

Nonetheless, the governor described the one-time spending as “likely the most transformational proposal of our lifetimes.”

The law allows $983 million in federal money to flow into the state for economic recovery and job training, along with child care and education, broadband and affordable housing, and other areas.

It represents "a historic investment in Maine businesses and working families who experienced profound hardship and extraordinary tragedy throughout this pandemic,” said Senate President Troy Jackson.

Members of both parties expressed disappointment over the lack of bipartisan support. “Maine is better served when both parties work together to develop budget proposals that can attract broad based support,” said Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, the House Republican leader.

In other action, lawmakers fell far short of a two-thirds threshold needed to override the governor’s veto of a bill to buy out Central Maine Power and Versant Power and replace them with a consumer-owned utility.

Critics were angry over CMP’s botched rollout of a billing system, slow response to power outages, high electric rates and controversial utility corridor that would serve as a conduit for Canadian hydropower.

If it had been approved, the proposal would’ve been sent to state voters who would have had the final say on the November ballot.

But voters will likely have their way, despite the outcome on Monday. A coalition called Our Power vowed to seek enough signatures to force a referendum vote on the proposal next year.

As for the federal stimulus funding, negotiators from both parties agreed on much of the proposal for spending the money from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was approved by Congress.

But there were a handful of sticking points for Republicans. One of them was a requirement for $20 million of $50 million in funding for affordable housing to go to firms that had agreements with organized labor.

Jeff Timberlake, the Republican leader in the Senate, suggested that money was being carved out for “special interests” and said there should be no strings attached to the affordable housing funding.

The project labor agreements were included because of federal guidance for states using the stimulus funding, said Sen. Cathy Breen, the Senate chairperson of the appropriations committee.