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Gov. Mills defends COVID record, says saving lives is number one concern

January marks the start of the fourth year of the governor’s first term in office and the beginning of the 2022 election year.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills says her administration has done everything it can to fight the COVID pandemic and that the best way to battle the current surge is for more Mainers to get vaccinated.

The governor made that comment, and others on Wednesday, in a one-on-one interview with NEWS CENTER Maine’s Don Carrigan at the Blaine House.

January marks the start of the fourth year of the governor’s first term in office and the beginning of the 2022 election year.  

Mills would not officially confirm she’s running. Still, she filed papers to be a candidate, has an active campaign organization raising money, and every indication is she will be seeking reelection.

The governor, however, deflected most questions about reelection and a campaign, saying her primary focus is on fighting the COVID pandemic and “saving lives.”

COVID has become the defining issue of her first term, affecting budget decisions, state policies, and nearly every issue the administration handles.

Republicans have been strong critics of the governor’s handling of aspects of the pandemic, accusing her of using policies that take away personal freedom, particularly the vaccine mandate for health care workers,

Mills defended her decision to require vaccinations for all those workers, saying the idea began with hospitals in Maine.

“Look, we made that decision in August and September,” Mills said. “Because the hospitals were starting to be concerned, and the hospitals came to us and said, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ Others came to us and said, ‘Why not do this?’”

Mills said she thought the idea made sense. So, she imposed the mandate. 

“When your family member goes to the hospital with a medical problem, or your child goes to the hospital for pneumonia, you ought to be able to expect everyone who takes care of you is fully vaccinated and healthy. That’s why we did the health care mandate,” she said. 

The mandate, however, did not include a testing option, and critics have accused the governor of making an existing shortage of health care workers more severe.

“We’ve had a workforce shortage in health care for some time. We inherited the shortage,” the governor said.

When asked again if her policy worsened the worker shortage, the governor said it was the right thing to do. She said a number of those who left jobs because of the mandate have been replaced and that “over 99%” of the health care workforce is now vaccinated.

NEWS CENTER Maine asked Mills if she had regrets about that policy. 

“None,” she replied. 

The governor also discussed her forthcoming supplemental budget, which will outline a plan for using a projected $822 million fiscal year 2022-23 revenue surplus. 

The governor said she intends to return a portion of that surplus to taxpayers. However, she said there is no decision yet if it would be done through a sales or income tax cut or a one-time payment, similar to the $285 checks sent before Christmas to Mainers who continued working through the pandemic.

Regarding the worker shortage, Mills said she is also planning proposals to make further investments in workforce training programs to deal with the significant staffing problems affecting many businesses.

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