Passing a responsible budget for the people of Maine
The Legislature showed true bipartisanship by passing a responsible budget that prevents massive property tax hikes and harm to our local communities. We did it again by overriding the governor’s veto of our compromise budget.
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee worked hard to create a budget built on collaboration and common ground.
The governor’s initial budget proposal would have been very harmful to Maine people. This budget is a responsible alternative.
This budget required compromise. Neither Republicans nor Democrats got everything they wanted. Both parties put politics aside to meet our promise to Maine people.
Nearly seven months ago, Gov. Paul LePage presented a $6.3 billion budget that was a $400 million tax shift onto property owners, seniors and local communities. This was to fund his tax breaks largely for the wealthy that were passed two years ago by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The compromise will prevent huge property tax hikes that would have resulted from the elimination of revenue sharing and key property tax reduction measures, cuts to excise tax revenues and new education costs to communities. This budget restores $125 million in cuts to revenue sharing which will go to important services that local communities depend on.
Democrats have always fought to protect Maine’s most vulnerable citizens, including our seniors. This budget restores cuts to the crucial Drugs for the Elderly Program, which helps seniors pay for their prescription drugs.
Maine’s seniors should never have to choose between going hungry or going without medication. The restoration of these cuts gives struggling seniors one less thing to worry about.
Our very talented state employees work hard for the state of Maine. Long overdue merit and longevity pay, as well as retiree health insurance, were restored for state employees in the budget. State workers have gone over four years without any pay increase and have seen their health insurance costs go up. Several agencies testified about problems recruiting and keeping employees due to low wages and shrinking benefits. We need to retain our skilled state employees so state government will be effective and efficient.
The budget also restores funding to Maine’s public schools. Our children are the future of this state and by returning $32 million in cuts to our schools we can ensure our students will get the best possible education. The budget also puts Maine on a path to reach 55% of funding for our schools, the voter-approved threshold.
The Circuit Breaker cuts were replaced with a $29 million property tax fairness credit and $9 million in cuts were restored to the Homestead Tax Credit.
In order to pay for these restorations we had to make some hard decisions. These cuts are paid for by temporary two-year increases in the sales tax and meals and lodging tax of a half-penny and 1 percent, respectively. Lawmakers also directed the state to identify $40 million in savings from closing corporate loopholes in the tax code.
They were hard choices, but ones we made together after months of careful consideration and looking at all the alternatives.
Although not every decision was easy, this budget is an example of the Legislature working together to do what is right for Maine.
Rep. Sheryl Briggs is serving her fourth term in the Maine Legislature and represents Canton, Carthage, Dixfield, Mexico and Peru.