In part one of her State of the State Address, Governor Mills urges Legislature to practice fiscal responsibility & unveils timely investments to build more housing, fight the opioid epidemic, and improve child safety
In the first of two parts of her 2024 State of the State Address, Governor Janet Mills this morning declared that “despite the very real challenges we have faced over the past several months, our state is getting stronger every day.”
The Governor submitted the first part of her State of the State address in a letter to the Maine Legislature and Maine people this morning. In the wake of three devastating storms and the October tragedy in Lewiston, the Governor will dedicate the entirety of tonight’s televised address to a Joint Convention of the Maine Legislature to extreme weather, violence, and public safety issues.
In this morning’s letter, the Governor celebrated Maine’s record economic and population growth, strongly urged lawmakers to approach additional projected state revenues with serious caution and unveiled a series of timely and responsible investments to address challenges faced by Maine people.
“Small businesses are expanding their operations; people are moving here to work and raise their families; and graduates are staying in Maine to pursue rewarding, life-long careers — all encouraging signs that are reflected in recent data about our economy,” wrote Governor Mills. “Since the end of 2019, our Gross Domestic Product has increased by 9.2 percent – the best rate of growth in New England and one of the highest in the nation. Since 2020, our population has grown by 2.4 percent – more than twice the national rate and eight times the rate of population growth in New England.”
The Governor noted that personal income growth among Maine people has grown at the second highest rate in New England, unemployment remains below the national rate, and more Maine businesses opened their doors last year than in the preceding year.
She discussed how investments from her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan have helped to tackle Maine’s workforce shortage, prepare Maine’s economy for future prosperity, and powered record job growth.
“With the support of those investments, the private sector has created a record number of jobs – up by nearly 9,000 in the past year alone. Maine has never had as many private sector jobs as it has today,” wrote Governor Mills. “Through the Jobs Plan, we invested more than $200 million in job training, credentialing, career exploration, and other programs to give people skills and support to join the workforce.”
Despite clear signs that Maine’s economy is strong, the Governor urged lawmakers to practice fiscal restraint in the upcoming supplemental budget. Although Maine is anticipated to have more revenue this year than originally projected, revenues are expected to level off in the next biennium.
The Governor urged lawmakers to “approach this next supplemental budget with caution and foresight” to ensure the State can continue to meet its obligations, as other states begin to face budget shortfalls.
She announced that her forthcoming supplemental budget proposal will set aside $100 million in projected revenue to ensure Maine can fulfill its promises to Maine people in the next biennium.
“I recognize there are many needs across the state, and I know, in the past, we have been able to say yes to a lot of things. However, this year is, and must be, different,” wrote Governor Mills. “If we do not budget responsibly now, the Legislature will be forced to make painful cuts in the future – just like other states are having to do now.”
The Governor also unveiled a series of timely and balanced investments to ensure that Maine is addressing the immediate needs of its people, including:
Addressing Homelessness and Building More Housing: In her remarks, the Governor wrote, “Whether a person is experiencing homelessness or transitioning to a new life in our state; whether a person is retired or working full time or looking to rent an apartment in a rural town or to purchase their first home in a city — there should be a place for that person in Maine.”
To that end, the Governor proposed:
- Emergency Housing: $16 million in her forthcoming supplemental budget proposal for the Emergency Housing Relief Fund to ensure that winter warming shelters, lower barrier shelters, longer term shelters and transitional housing programs can remain open, operating, and supporting the emergency housing needs of Maine people. This builds on $55 million in previous investments by the Governor and Legislature through the fund to support more than 75 housing programs and 7,000 Maine people in need statewide.
- Long-Term Home Ownership: $10 million in her forthcoming supplemental budget to bolster the Affordable Homeownership Program, which is estimated to help build more than 130 new homes in Maine. Since 2019, the Governor and Legislature have authorized almost $285 million to support the construction of more apartments and homes. These state and federal funds have resulted in more than 600 new homes so far, with more than 1,000 homes under construction, and more than 2,000 homes in the pipeline for construction – the most ever in MaineHousing’s history.
Improving Child Safety: In her remarks, the Governor wrote, “I deeply believe that it is important to recognize when there are problems and to try to address them. The child welfare system needs improvement, and it is the responsibility of my Administration and the Legislature to make those improvements. Every one of us cares deeply about children, and we need to pursue every smart strategy we can to improve the health and safety of all children.”
To that end, the Governor proposed to:
- Add Targeted Positions to Support Child Caseworkers: The Governor announced that she will propose creating targeted positions – such as legal aides and trainers – through her supplemental budget to expand teams for caseworkers so that they can focus their time and energy on engagement with children and families, on follow-up for services, on investigations, and on making sound decisions to protect children in need. As part of this, the Governor called for the Legislature to pass a resolve sponsored by Senator Lisa Keim directing the Department of Health and Human Services to create a pilot program to recruit and retain case aides, with a public campaign aimed at retirees and other people not currently in Maine’s workforce.
- Direct Review of Classification of Child Welfare Workers: Recognizing that to help fill these new positions, they must pay appropriately, the Governor announced that she has directed her Administration to review the classification of child welfare positions to ensure that the compensation properly reflects the difficulty and complexity of the work to attract and retain people in this vital workforce. This builds on the more than 24 percent pay increase the Governor and Legislature have provided to State workers since taking office, in addition to a recent stipend increase specifically for child welfare workers.
- Distribute Child Welfare Recruitment and Retention Payments: The Governor authorized the Department of Health and Human Services to implement additional recruitment and retention payments for child welfare workers to provide a much-needed boost this year.
Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: In her remarks, the Governor wrote, “In all, we are on track to see a more than 16 percent reduction in fatal overdose deaths for 2023, the first time in five years we’ve recorded an annual decrease. I believe the investments we’ve made in prevention, treatment, and recovery services have contributed to that decrease. This welcome news should bring us all a sense of relief, but our cautious optimism shouldn’t become complacency.”
To that end, the Governor announced:
- Adding Recovery Coaches to OPTIONS: The Governor announced that her Administration will use $750,000 in existing state funding to add nine new recovery coaches to our OPTIONS teams statewide. Launched by the Mills Administration, OPTIONS is a coordinated effort to improve the health of Mainers with substance use disorder by deploying licensed behavioral health clinicians within local emergency medical services and law enforcement agencies to support treatment, harm reduction and recovery, and reduce the number of fatal and non-fatal drug related overdoses in every county across Maine.
- Boosting Naloxone Distribution: The Governor announced her Administration will use $1.25 million in federal funds to further boost our distribution of naloxone across Maine. By purchasing and distributing hundreds of thousands of doses of naloxone, Maine has reversed more than 9,000 potentially fatal overdoses.
- Expanding Medication for Medication Assisted Treatment in Jails: Maine’s prison system has implemented statewide the use of Medication Assisted Treatment with proven results. The Governor announced that she will dedicate $4 million through her supplemental budget to expand Medication Assisted Treatment into county jails in Maine to help more people battling addiction on a life-long path to recovery.
Additional Initiatives: The Governor also announced several initiatives to support the education, health, and safety of Maine people, including:
- Investing in K-12 Education: Governor Mills announced that her supplemental budget will propose dedicating $22.6 million of revenues to public schools through the General Purpose Aid (GPA) formula to ensure Maine meets its obligations to schools, municipalities, and teachers. In 2021, the Governor and the Legislature met the State’s requirement to provide 55 percent of education funding for the first time in Maine history and have maintained that commitment ever since.
- Fixing Child Development Services in Maine: Declaring that Maine’s use of a quasi-governmental organization to provide special education services to preschool-aged children “just isn’t working for Maine kids,” the Governor announced that the Maine Department of Education will release a new plan to change how Maine educates young children with disabilities and urged the Legislature to work with her Administration to fix Child Development Services.
- Attracting and Retaining Health Care Workers: The Governor announced that her supplemental budget will include, among other initiatives, a cost-of-living adjustment for behavioral health providers and overhaul nursing facility rates in order to attract and retain high-quality health providers.
Governor Mills will deliver part two of her State of the State Address tonight to a Joint Convention of the Maine Legislature. The full address, which begins at 7:00 p.m., will be streamed live online at MainePublic.org.