Governor Janet Mills highlighted areas of agreement on budget issues while defending her record on the COVID-19 pandemic in her State of the State Address Thursday that preceded a 2022 re-election campaign with the former Governor Paul LePage.

The Democratic governor did not mention his likely Republican opponent by name in his hour-long speech to lawmakers on Thursday. But she contrasted their terms, emphasized areas of bipartisan agreement and joined other governors in calling for more normality.

Here are four key moments from his speech.

Highlighting the agreement with the Republicans

Mills’ biggest political announcement of the night was his support for a Republican plan to return half of Maine’s more than $800 million budget surplus to taxpayers, which could allow for checks of around $500. $ each for over 800,000 Mainers.

“A lot of my friends across the aisle — like Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake (of Turner) and House Budget Officer (Rep.) Sawin Millett (of Waterford) — called to a return of half of the surplus to the people of Maine. through direct controls,” Mills said. “I think they are right.”

She later yelled at Deputy Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, for his bill to expand Maine’s Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides student debt relief to some graduates. academics. The Governor announced Thursday that she would support funding for a significant expansion of the tax credit to make all graduate students in debt eligible for relief of up to $25,000, regardless of their academic major or educational path. career.

Pouliot and other leaders were cautiously supportive of these programs, but insisted they would need to see the supplementary budget bill and how spending would be fully allocated before launching. And they reiterated that the money Mills has is due to federal spending, not its governance.

“It’s a lot easier to look like you’re doing something when the feds send you billions of dollars so you can allocate them to these different ideas that you have,” Pouliot said. “But the reality is that we need structural changes in Maine.”

The “previous administration”

Mills took some not-so-subtle jabs at LePage, beginning with a string of headlines from 2015 and 2018 that highlighted labor shortages when the former governor was in office.

She also reminded the Legislature that she signed an executive order expanding Medicaid on her first day in office after LePage balked at doing so during her final year in office despite the results of a 2017 referendum. and highlighted a $15 million senior housing bond she signed. early in his term, noting that it had “never been released by the previous administration.”

Continued economic challenges can be a problem for any sitting governor, and Republicans across the United States have sought to tie Democrats to rising inflation. But running against her predecessor puts Mills in a unique position to compare her record directly with LePage’s — even if she resists saying her name.

LePage responded to Mills’ speech Thursday night by criticizing Mills on Maine’s unemployment rate and saying she was propping up the economy with “play money.”

“However, no debt-fueled fictitious money from Washington, DC, can cover up Janet Mills’ failure to manage Maine’s economy,” he said.

Defending the vaccine mandate

The Democratic governor forcefully defended the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, which drew heavy criticism from Republicans. But Mills listed a long list of organizations that support the mandate while noting that it had been upheld by the United States Supreme Court, as well as a similar federal mandate.

“They can’t all be wrong,” she said.

Republicans blamed the mandate for ongoing health care staffing struggles in Maine. Several care homes closed this fall after it took effect, though industry leaders have pointed to pandemic burnout as the biggest staffing challenge.

Their dislike was evident as lines on vaccination rates and an acknowledgment to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Nirav Shah received a cold reception. Rep. Joshua Morris, R-Turner, pushed Mills to offer a testing option for healthcare workers, saying the governor should defer to those workers’ wishes “rather than lecture them” with tests. hospitals struggling with staff.

The term could become a big issue in the 2022 gubernatorial campaign, as LePage said he would repeal it on his first day in office. But Mills is ready to defend him.

A return to normal?

Mills spoke of returning to a pre-pandemic normal as the night opened and ended, noting that his decision to address lawmakers in person for the first time in two years reflected an “inflection point” in the recovery of the state.

His speech came as hospitalizations for COVID-19 have steadily declined for more than two weeks, but still remain higher than at any time before November. Mills reiterated a stance she maintained throughout the winter surge that emergency restrictions from the start of the pandemic would not return, instead emphasizing the importance of continued vaccinations and testing.

“Today, we’re not trying to tell people what they can’t do. We focus on telling people what they can and should do,” she said.