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Maine governor delivers virtual State of the Budget address

February 24, 2021 GMT
FILE-In this March 12, 2020 file photo, Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference at the State House in Augusta, Maine. Mills is scheduled to deliver her state of the budget address via a live video stream on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, file)
FILE-In this March 12, 2020 file photo, Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference at the State House in Augusta, Maine. Mills is scheduled to deliver her state of the budget address via a live video stream on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, file)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A day after the nation surpassed the grim milestone of 500,000 deaths, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills paid tribute to Mainers who’ve died in the pandemic and praised the state’s perseverance while providing her vision for an economic path forward on Tuesday.

Mills used her “virtual” State of the Budget address to honor the 660 Mainers who lost their lives during the pandemic — mentioning several of them by name — while also celebrating the state’s hard work, ingenuity and success in fighting the pandemic.

“We’ve been through a lot these past 12 months, and perseverance will see us through these times, no matter who we are or where we live,” said Mills, who on Tuesday ordered flags lowered to honor COVID-19 victims.

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The pre-recorded speech aired on television and was streamed online in lieu of a traditional, live address to a joint session of the Maine Legislature.

During the speech, Mills announced that she’ll be presenting a “Back to Work” bond proposal totaling more than $100 million in coming weeks that draws from the state’s 10-year economic development plan.

It’ll include $30 million to expand broadband; $50 million to help farmers, loggers and fishermen; $25 million to bolster career and technical centers and partner with community colleges to train workers; and $6 million for low- or no-interest loans to expand childcare.

She also said her two-year budget, previously released, aims to move the state forward and to protect those who are at risk without going overboard by dipping into the state’s savings.

“State government cannot be all things to all people all the time. But history has shown us that we cannot cut our way to prosperity. During emergencies such as this one, people depend on us to protect children, to secure health care, to safeguard educational and career opportunities and to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens,” she said.

The governor touted some of the state’s COVID-19 successes — low infection rates and a Top 20 performance for vaccinations. And she said the state’s economy is improving with strong home sales and construction job growth, indicating the economy is growing.

She took time to heap praise on some of the unlikely heroes of the pandemic like veterinary diagnostics company Idexx and The Jackson Laboratory, which along with Abbott Laboratories helped to boost testing capacity, and Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products, which makes specialized swabs for testing. There were many others, she said.

The governor’s executive orders issued during the pandemic have been a source of partisan bickering, and there are several bills to rein in the governor’s power during an emergency.

Jeffrey Timberlake, Senate minority leader, said it’s time for lawmakers to play a role, and he said lawmakers need to convene together instead of via Zoom to work on compromise. “Two heads are better than one and we need to find a way that we can be part of the discussion about how we move Maine forward,” said Timberlake, R-Turner.

In her speech, Mills took time to praise a Biddeford company for making materials used in the heat shield of NASA’s Perseverance, which landed on Mars last week.

And she quoted characters Frodo and Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” in talking about how people are sometimes thrust into situations that they don’t really want.

“We, like the rest of the nation, were dealt a bad hand last year. But we are pushing through. We will get to the other side. We will not only survive, we will rise a better, greater state for all that we have endured and all that we have learned, all whom we have saved,” she said.