It’s been a week since Janet Mills was sworn in as Maine’s 75th governor, and the past seven days have already felt like a breath of fresh air in our state.
We congratulate and welcome Mills, the first woman in Maine elected to the office of governor, and applaud her for quickly moving on issues of importance to Mainers. Her first course of action was to approve Medicaid expansion, and she’s outlined the opioid epidemic and climate change as being among her top priorities. With a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, Mills’ priorities are likely to have a favorable ear in the Legislature.
Before her first day in office came to a close, Mills signed an executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services to begin implementing Medicaid expansion, which will extend health care coverage to an estimated 70,000 Mainers. We know residents in our communities and beyond will see benefits of Medicaid expansion as more are able to access health care.
The order was a swift change from former Republican Gov. Paul LePage who staunchly opposed expanding Medicaid, vetoing legislation that would authorize it, even though Mainers showed their support on the ballot in 2017. During a press conference that followed her order, Mills said she would submit a sustainable funding plan to the Legislature as part of her two-year budget proposal to be released later this month.
“We need a healthy environment. And we need healthy people,” Mills said in her inaugural address.
Among those who may now be eligible for Medicaid are low-income Mainers with addiction issues. In 2017, 418 Maine people lost their lives to drug overdose. Fighting the opioid epidemic, including greater funding for opiate addiction treatment, is a top priority for Mills. “Narcan widely available, medication-assisted treatment, recovery coaches. These things will be a reality,” she said in her inaugural address, adding that her administration will create a Director of Opiate Response, who will harness and use the power and resources of state government to “stem the tide of this epidemic.”
York is home to the first facility in southern York County to offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorder, the Recovery Center at York Hospital. In its first six months, the center saw 24 patients, the first of whom are now ready to graduate from the six to nine month program. Eric Haram, a consultant to the Recovery Center, said the governor’s focus “will help us a great deal” as currently less than 15 percent of all treatment offers access to MAT.
Mills also has plans to make renewable energy a priority, saying among other things she will install solar panels on the Blaine House. “Our new administration will embrace clean energy; change our modes of transportation; weatherize homes and businesses, and reach a goal of 50 percent of our electricity coming from Maine renewable resources,” she said in her inaugural address. “These actions will create good-paying jobs, preserve our environment, and welcome young people to build a green future here in Maine.”
We are excited to see action, finally, at the state level, as it catches up to work already being undertaken in our local communities. In York, in 2015, heat pumps and a solar array were installed at the York Beach Fire Department to offset electricity costs and the town is about to enter into an LED streetlight contract that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions for streetlights by 75 percent. In addition, the Energy Steering Committee is looking at ways to continue to reduce the town’s carbon footprint and has set a goal to reduce the town’s greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent by 2050, and 50 percent by 2030. The town of Eliot last week opened its second photovoltaic solar array that will supply 95 percent of the town’s municipal electric power needs, producing 171,000 kilowatt hours of clean energy annually for the next 40 years, and saving the town $1 million in electricity costs over that time.
These local actions will work hand in hand with what’s to come at the state level. And the support coming from Augusta may lead to additional incentives for towns to become more green under Mills’ leadership.
Mills heralded “a new day” for Maine in her inaugural address and said she is leading with her love of the state at the forefront, and with unity, diversity and prosperity in mind. We look forward to what’s to come.