AUGUSTA, Maine — The big moment on Thursday night ... when Gov. Janet Mills proposed giving half of the state's $822 million surplus back to taxpayers. That would be about $500 per person back in the pocket of Mainers.
"These givebacks, by direct checks to the people, will amount to about $500 per person and will be distributed to an estimated 800,000 taxpayers in Maine," Mills said to the joint Legislature.
Republicans said it isn't enough.
"She thinks she can only give back half the surplus?" Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Penobscot, said. "We should have a larger surplus, and it should be going back to the people."
Guerin cited the billions of dollars of federal money the state has gotten during the pandemic.
Maine House Republicans said after the address that they want to work with her, but they want to do so in a truly bipartisan way.
"If we can work in a bipartisan way to make sure this happens equitably and people on a fixed income can benefit from this, I'm all for it," Rep. Sue Benard, R-Caribou, said.
Mills took a victory lap for her pandemic response. Still, she also laid out her plans in the supplemental budget, including investing millions in childcare, affordable housing, and free community college.
"Maine people are telling us that they need child care, that they need housing, and that they need broadband, that they need good health care and strong public schools for their kids. I agree," Mills said.
It's no surprise Democrats like House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, agree with her on the importance of investing in Maine families.
"Gov. Mills put American Rescue Plan dollars towards a wage supplement for child care workers, the folks I call the workforce behind our workforce," Fecteau said.
In the end, with her reelection campaign on the horizon, Mills was trying to make the case for progress, no matter the cost.
Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage released a statement after Mills' address:
"Tonight, Janet Mills gave her reelection campaign speech in a building full of political insiders. It is fitting for someone born and raised in politics. Instead of working to fully eliminate Maine's income tax like I have proposed, Janet Mills is promising more and more spending, propped up with funny money from deficit spending out of Washington, DC. However, no debt-fueled, funny money from Washington, D.C., can paper over Janet Mills' failure to manage Maine's economy. As governor, I was proud that Maine's unemployment rate was never higher than the national average. But today, under Janet Mills, our unemployment rate is not only above the national average; it is 80% worse than New Hampshire's. That is the difference between having a governor who has a real background in job creation or a governor whose lifetime has been politics like Janet Mills."
LePage announced he was running for governor last year.