We have all read the headlines during the past few weeks. Gov. Paul LePage’s childish behavior has cast a dark spell on an otherwise promising legislative session. It is becoming a familiar pattern where the hard work and achievements of the citizen legislature are overshadowed by the governor’s high-profile antics.
The people of Lewiston deserve to know who is fighting for them in Augusta and the work being done to improve the state’s economy. I am proud to say that Lewiston Democrats provide a shining example of that leadership.
Regardless of the political climate, our lawmakers have proven time and time again that they are willing to put differences aside and do what is right for working Mainers and their families. There is no greater example of their efforts than the successful passage of the $6.7 billion bipartisan budget deal.
As a former lawmaker and member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to pass a budget deal.
This session was no exception. Our leaders worked across the aisle to put a stop to many harmful aspects of the governor’s original budget plan.
That includes his desire to eliminate the revenue-sharing program, which would have crippled the state’s ability to provide important public services, and his plan to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Mainers by forcing massive education cuts. Those cuts would have been detrimental to municipalities, students and economic growth.
Thanks to the work of Lewiston Democrats and those fighting for working Mainers, the worst aspects of the governor’s proposal were defeated. In its place is a bipartisan budget deal that represents the values of middle-class families.
The $6.7 billion budget deal is also a huge win for Lewiston families and the economy. It puts more money in the pockets of working families and invests in the economic future.
While the governor and his allies focused on trickle down economics, Lewiston Democrats helped to craft a budget that invests in the middle class through public education and workforce development. The result is an additional $400,000 in funding for Lewiston schools and $1 million in job training for workers statewide.
Lewiston Democrats also fought to provide property tax relief for Maine families.
The bipartisan budget doubles the homestead exemption to $20,000, giving Lewiston residents an additional $240 property tax cut. In contrast, the governor’s plan would have eliminated the homestead exemption for anyone under 65.
Lewiston Democrats have always stood up for Maine seniors. That is why the Democratic delegation rejected Gov. LePage’s plan to cut $48 million in funding for Drugs for the Elderly and Medicare Savings programs. Those programs help low-income seniors pay for high prescription drug costs and must be maintained.
The budget also tackles welfare reform by encouraging a welfare-to-work transition for Maine families.
The budget eliminates the so-called “welfare cliff,” which has forced struggling Mainers to lose benefits if they earn even one dollar more than the income threshold. That move will provide a reliable safety net for Lewiston families and a better shot at economic independence in the long run.
Another bright spot from this legislative session is the work done by Lewiston Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, and Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, to further plans for the development of passenger rail service to Lewiston and Auburn.
Both introduced measures to study and fund the planning for the project, which would help improve public transportation, infrastructure and economic development in the community.
Their efforts are backed by our Democratic State Reps. Peggy Rotundo, Mike Lajoie and Heidi Brooks. The Democratic members have worked together, in a respectful and bipartisan manner, to do what is right for the people of Lewiston.
The results speak for themselves. Working families, seniors and students will benefit from good policies that will grow the workforce and improve the economy.
Lewiston Democrats’ work should be seen as a bright spot in a very long and heated legislative session.
Margaret Craven is a former state Senator and the current chair of the Lewiston Democrats. She lives in Lewiston.