If there was one theme Maine Gov. Janet Mills pounded during her State of the State speech Tuesday, it’s that the Pine Tree State isn’t Washington, D.C.
It’s a message she peppered into her nearly hourlong remarks for lawmakers and other state officials seven times. With a nod to the impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump taking place in the nation’s capital as well as the ongoing Democratic presidential debates, Mills, a Democrat, sought to strike a bipartisan tone.
“Tariffs and trade wars, threats of terrorism and partisan fighting paralyze the nation’s capital,” she said. “But here in Maine, we are doing what Mainers have done for more than two centuries: putting our shoulder to the wheel and working across the aisle to get things done for Maine people. Because we are not Washington. We are Maine.”
Mills did have a few requests to make to legislators, including some tied to her 10-year plan to attract new people to the state and retain its most talented workers. That included building more housing, increasing the Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit, and building out broadband access.
The governor wants $15 million to improve internet access. She noted how businesses have struggled to grow due to limited connectivity.
“High-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity” she said. “Increasing access to high speed internet will allow our businesses to expand and allow all people to connect with schools, health care providers and markets around the country and around the world.”
Another way the state can encourage small business growth is by helping them find more affordable health insurance for their workers. She said it would help people like Becky Rand, who runs a small diner in Portland, as well as those who are self-employed, and it can be done without additional public funding.
“The ‘Made for Maine Health Coverage Act,’ offers a Maine solution for small businesses and it creates a marketplace designed to best meet the needs of Maine people,” she said.
While noting the economy is growing, Mills also called for an additional $20 million to be earmarked for the state’s rainy day fund, noting that Maine must be prepared in case an economic downturn should occur.
However, while she’s looking to increase savings, Mills did call for additional social spending as well. That included asking lawmakers to restore full funding to the state’s higher education budget and hiring additional social workers to investigate child abuse cases.
Mills also pushed environmental projects, including an effort to attract offshore wind to the state. Later this year, she said she would visit Scotland to learn more about their offshore energy production efforts.
While Mills sought bipartisanship. Jason Savage, the state GOP’s executive director, criticized the governor for putting “pet projects” ahead of more essential needs.
“Maine’s roads are crumbling, our elderly care centers are underfunded, and Maine citizens in desperate need of assistance are stuck on waiting lists behind non-citizens, all while (Mills) builds solar panels and charging stations for electric cars,” he added.