(The Center Square) – Maine Gov. Janet Mills has signed off on a plan to spend more than $1 billion of pandemic relief funds after Democratic lawmakers passed the bill on a party-line vote.
Mills signed the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan on Monday, only a few hours after the Democratic-controlled Legislature pushed the plan through without Republican support. The House approved the bill by a 70 to 49 with Republicans voting against it. The Senate passed the bill 21-13, also largely along party lines.
Because the measure didn't pass with a two-thirds majority, the federal funding can't be spent for at least 90 days.
In a statement, Mills said she was "disappointed" that lawmakers couldn't reach a bipartisan agreement on the spending package, but said she couldn't delay its approval.
"While I would have much preferred that it have the broad support needed to implement its investments immediately, given the Legislature’s failure to achieve any meaningful compromise prior to today’s vote, I was not convinced that vetoing it would lead to a better result for the people of Maine," the Democrat said.
Mills, a Democrat, had urged lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle to reach by bipartisan consensus on the bill.
Maine expects to get more than $1.1 billion in federal funds from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, a pandemic relief package signed by President Joe Biden in March.
Under the $983 million spending plan, at least $150 million would be earmarked for expanding broadband internet access to Maine's largely rural population.
The plan also devotes $80 million for loans and grants to help pandemic-impacted businesses and will pump $80 million into the state's unemployment system.
Other spending includes $50 million for drinking and wastewater upgrades and $50 million for state park improvements.
But Democrats reduced the size of Mill's proposal to $983 million and added other spending items GOP lawmakers say they won't support.
The state GOP has been feuding with Mills and Democratic leaders since March when they pushed through a two-year, $8.4 billion budget without a single GOP vote.
Democrats employed a similar legislative maneuver to approve the biennial budget with a simple majority vote, bypassing the normally required two-thirds vote to pass it.
The budget ultimately passed with Republican support, and GOP lawmakers said they had reached agreement with Democrats on many of the items in Mill's relief package bill and were upset that Democrats had decided to change the plan.
The latest wrangling was over a provision in the spending bill diverting $20 million to affordable housing projects that used union labor. Republicans argued the plan was anti-competitive and wanted the provision expanded to include nonunion workers.
Mills said she was planning to reach out to federal officials to determine if any of the last-minute changes made by Democratic lawmakers are allowable under the law.
"Despite my disappointment over the delay in these investments and the unnecessarily partisan votes on the bill, I am pleased that the Legislature, both Democrats and Republicans, agreed on the vast majority of the important measures in this bill and, like them, I am pleased to see it become law," she said.