Governor Mills promises free college, relief checks, student debt relief, internet accessibility
AUGUSTA — In her second state of the state address, Governor Janet Mills said Thursday night that “our state is strong, and it’s getting stronger every day,” as she touted the significant progress Maine has made. despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and as she is committed to continuing progress on behalf of the people of Maine.
“The people of Maine deserve every ounce of hard-earned progress we’ve made despite the pandemic. More than that, the people of Maine have earned the progress that is yet to come,” Governor Mills said. “Our state is beautiful. Our state is strong, and it grows stronger every day… Tonight we recommit to moving forward, to recovering, to moving forward towards normalcy… This is my mission, and I ask you all to join me. Because progress is the reason the people of Maine sent us here, and after the past twenty-three months, I’ve never believed in the people of our great state so much.
Maine has the third-highest vaccination rate in the nation and the fourth-lowest death rate in the nation, despite having one of the oldest populations in the nation. Despite this success, Governor Mills acknowledged the ongoing impact of the pandemic and pledged her administration would continue to support the people of Maine.
“Last year’s emergency measures no longer serve the purposes they once served, and they should no longer do so. As science and trends evolve, so does our response. Today we don’t try to tell people what they can’t do. We focus on telling people what they can and should do. We are focused on preserving the most vital facets of our lives: our schools, our hospitals, our jobs,” Governor Mills said. “As the storm of the pandemic continues, with ups and downs to come, I promise you this: that we will work day and night to make vaccines and testing accessible to all; keeping our children safe in their schools; working closely with our health systems, ensuring critical care for everyone who needs it, not just those with COVID; and to keep our businesses open and thriving and our economy moving forward.
The Governor also noted that Maine’s gross domestic product, a key measure of economic growth, grew at the second fastest rate in New England and the 14th fastest rate in the nation during the third quarter of the year. last year ; that Maine’s population grew at the second highest rate in New England and the seventh highest rate in the nation; that Maine has a budget surplus of $822 million; and Maine’s Rainy Day Fund has more than doubled under his tenure to an all-time high of nearly $500 million.
However, the governor also acknowledged the challenges that remain on Maine’s road to recovery, identifying the long-standing labor shortage as the biggest problem facing Maine following the pandemic and the inflation that weighs on the pockets of Maine residents.
To help Maine residents with the rising costs of daily consumer goods, Governor Mills announced that she would return half of the surplus – $411 million – to Maine residents, in accordance with appeals Republican lawmakers in the Senate and House.
“I can’t control the impact of COVID-19 on global markets, but I can make sure we provide the people of Maine with the resources they need to meet these rising costs as we rebuild an economy. stronger and more resilient to the whims of the rest of the world,” said Governor Mills. “I propose that we return half of this projected surplus – $411 million – to the people of Maine with a direct check. These rebates will amount to approximately $500 per person and will be distributed to approximately 800,000 Maine ratepayers to help offset additional costs.
The governor also highlighted the importance of his Maine jobs and recovery plan to address the labor shortage, outlining his critical investments in human infrastructure that experts said Maine residents needed to succeed, including childcare, housing, high-speed Internet, health care. , and world-class educational opportunities from kindergarten through college.
“Our labor shortage is a serious problem. It’s a problem I inherited, but I won’t leave it to our grandchildren to solve,” Governor Mills said. “It will take hard work, not simplistic solutions, but we know what we need to do. People in Maine tell us they need child care, they need housing and they need broadband, they need good health care and strong public schools for their children. I agree. That’s why we’ve taken a comprehensive approach through the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, and why we welcome a bipartisan effort to improve our schools and prepare every child for a career and a meaningful life in the state that we hope he will always call home. .”
To support students hardest hit by the pandemic and to ensure they can enter the workforce with well-paying jobs, Governor Mills announced that she would make two years of community college free for students in Maine.
“For young people in Maine whose aspirations have been most impacted by the pandemic, I propose making two years of community college free. To the high school classes of 2020-2023 – if you enroll full-time at a Maine community college this fall or next, the state of Maine will cover every last dollar of your tuition so you can earn a certificate of a year or two-year associate degree, so that you graduate debt-free and ready to enter the workforce. And if you’re someone who’s already started a two-year program, we’ve got your back, too,” Governor Mills said. “We’ll cover the last dollar of your second year. There are so many high paying jobs in healthcare, engineering, trades, construction, clean tech, and many other industries just waiting for you. As Governor, I want you to know that the future is yours and that we will help you embrace it.
Governor Mills has also offered funding to turn the Maine Opportunity Tax Credit into a premier debt relief tool to attract college graduates to live in Maine, consistent with the goals of legislation sponsored by the senator. Matt Pouliot (R-Kennebec):
“Educational debt is a heavy burden that prevents young people from starting a business, affording a mortgage or paying their bills and realizing their full potential. This is simply unacceptable,” Governor Mills said. “We are going to expand and simplify the [Maine Opportunity Tax Credit’s] eligibility criteria so that those who graduated with student debt – regardless of the type of degree they have or where they graduated or the type of work they do now – they will be eligible for debt relief of up to $25,000 over their lifetime, as long as they have a job and settle in Maine. With these changes, the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit will be the nation’s leading student debt relief program and a powerful tool for employers to attract people from all walks of life to work and live in the state of Maine.
Governor Mills also announced several initiatives to support children’s growth and entry into the workforce and to strengthen Maine’s economy, including:
Increase wages for child care workers and early childhood educators: Governor Mills has proposed investing more than $12 million to raise the wages of child care workers and early childhood educators to strengthen our child care system in Maine, consistent with the goals of legislation sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau.
Investing in K-12 Education: Governor Mills has pledged to create an education stabilization fund, capitalized with $30 million from the general fund, to maintain the state’s commitment – made for the first time under her administration – to fund public schools at 55%.
Full Funding of Free Meals: Governor Mills has offered to fully fund universal free lunches in public schools, in line with an initiative led by Senate Speaker Troy Jackson.
Experimental learning: Governor Mills asked Education Commissioner Pender Makin to design an experiential learning program to reconnect Maine children to the classroom and out, exposing them to new experiences and enhancing their educational opportunities.
Achieve internet connection for all who want it by 2024: Governor Mills has promised that anyone in Maine who wants to connect to high-speed internet will be able to do so by 2024, just two years from now.
Supporting Maine Hospitals and Nursing Homes: Governor Mills has offered to send an additional $50 million to Maine hospitals and nursing homes, $25 million each, to help them deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.
Summon a silver cabinet: Governor Mills has pledged to convene a Silver Cabinet to engage state government, break down silos, and improve communication and coordination to ensure that every person in Maine can age safely, at a cost affordable, in the way that best meets their needs.