On the afternoon of Monday, June 17, legislators gathered in a conference room to witness Gov. Mills sign a budget to fund state government for the next two years. The event marked the end of a process that began more than six months ago, which resulted in a responsible budget that funds important programs that will directly benefit Maine people, without breaking the bank. The budget Gov. Mills signed passed the Legislature with strong support from members of both parties, bringing back a tradition of bipartisanship and collegiality in the budget process that has been missing in recent years.

The new state budget appropriates about $75 million in property tax relief for families, seniors and small businesses. It expands the Property Tax Fairness Credit to 13,000 additional people. Folks who qualify for this program can save up to $800 on their property taxes or rent, while eligible seniors can save up to $1,250. The new budget also increases the Homestead Exemption from $20,000 to $25,000, meaning homeowners can take an additional $5,000 off the value of their home and pay property taxes on only the remaining amount.

The budget also increases the share of overall state revenue from sales and income taxes paid to local towns and cities from 2 percent to almost 4 percent, which will take some of the pressure of funding local services off of property tax payers. It increases the state’s investment in schools to 50 percent of total costs; increases the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 by 2022; and funds initiatives to feed more hungry school children to ensure that kids in school don’t have to try to learn on an empty stomach.

This is also the first budget to fund the voter-approved MaineCare expansion. Maine’s investment will be matched almost six-to-one by the federal government, will ensure more people are able to get the health care that they need and help rural health care facilities and hospitals stay afloat. The new budget also expands access to low-cost prescription drugs for seniors, funds efforts to combat the ongoing opioid crisis and provides funds to help folks quit smoking and keep kids away from using tobacco.

Another big item in this budget is the funding it adds for child protection and family safety. Under the new budget, the Maine Office of Child and Family Services will hire 62 new child protection workers, which will help us keep kids safe from abuse and neglect. It also provides funds for domestic violence and sexual assault services.

Finally, this budget looks to the future of Maine’s economy with investments in broadband, higher education and community colleges, rural development, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The best part? All of these new investments, expanded programs and increased services are paid for with existing resources. That means no increases in the sales tax and no increases in the income tax either. On top of that, $18 million is being allocated to the state’s “rainy day fund,” which will ensure sustainability of funding for programs in the future.

Looking at what this budget does, it’s easy to see why it earned strong support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the Legislature: Funding property tax relief, cities, towns and schools; expanding health care access; protecting children; investing in Maine’s future; and setting aside money for the future, all without raising taxes, is something we can all get behind.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d like to hear from you. I can be reached by email at James.Dill@legislature.maine.gov or by phone at (207) 287-1515. I work for you, and you have a right to hold me accountable.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: