AUGUSTA — Today, the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee reached a unanimous, bipartisan agreement on the budget. The proposal will go before the full Legislature on Wednesday, June 30 for a vote.
“Today, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee approved a bipartisan proposal that finally makes good on our longstanding commitment to Maine schools, property taxpayers, and municipalities. It also responds to the hardships that Mainers experienced during this pandemic. The proposal provides a one-time hazard bonus to the hardworking men and women, who worked through the pandemic in difficult circumstances. It also funds Maine nursing homes and senior living facilities to ensure these facilities and the incredible professionals who care for our loved ones can continue with this important work,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “For years, my colleagues and I have fought to deliver meaningful property tax relief to working families and seniors all across the state. With this budget, we are on track to deliver by making good on funding promises and expanding the property tax fairness credit to cover more than 800,000 Mainers. I’m grateful to Sen. Cathy Breen, Rep. Teresa Pierce and their colleagues on the budget committee for putting in the long hours and working over the weekend to get this done.”
“I am proud of the Legislature for reaching a bipartisan agreement on Maine’s budget. Today, we address areas of great need for Mainers and we proactively invest in our state’s future. Through this budget agreement, we will usher in meaningful change: We will extend preventative dental care to over 200,000 Mainers. We will invest in Maine’s workforce by supporting capital improvements to our career and technical education training centers. We will thank the workforce who kept our economy moving this year through hazard bonuses. Our state will continue to lead on access to voting, letting Mainers with disabilities and those over 65 opt-in to automatic absentee ballots.” said Speaker Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford. “I extend my thanks to the Appropriations Committee for their tireless efforts on this budget. It is a true reflection of our shared Maine values. I also want to thank every person who testified in public hearings on a bill they cared about this year. Your voices helped steer the budget process.”
“By working across the aisle, the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has come up with a responsible, bipartisan budget that makes critical investments in education, property tax relief, and land conservation while continuing to grow our Rainy Day Fund to historic highs. It reflects a shared set of priorities that will greatly benefit people all across the state,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, Chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “I’m grateful to my colleagues for their judicious work to finalize a budget that works for Maine. I’m hopeful that the rest of my colleagues in the Legislature will come together and follow our lead by passing a budget that positions Maine to fully rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Leading up to this vote, our committee members worked every day to ensure the values of Maine people shape this budget. We have gone through each line item of the budget carefully and the votes we took today reflect a strong, bipartisan agreement. That’s what Maine people want to see: bipartisan efforts to shape Maine’s recovery from COVID-19. This budget reflects our commitment to Maine schools and our municipalities and importantly, the people who provide tireless care for vulnerable Mainers. It provides historic investments in improving the health of Maine people by investing in PFAS remediation, recognizing dental care as health care, and supporting treatment options for substance abuse disorder.” said Rep. Teresa Pierce, House Chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.
KEEPING PROMISES ON PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
- Restores revenue sharing: The budget makes good on the state’s commitment to our city, towns, and municipalities by fully investing in revenue sharing by the end of the biennium. This influx in funds to local municipalities will help stabilize property taxes by shifting the cost of essential services off of property taxpayers. The budget raises municipal revenue sharing from 3.75% to 4.5% in Fiscal Year 22 and 5 percent in Fiscal Year 23.
- Expands Property Tax Fairness Credit to 83,000 Mainers: The budget improved the Property Tax Fairness Credit, providing a one-time boost in the maximum benefit from $750 to $12,000 for income-eligible families, and $1,000 to $1,500 for seniors. The budget permanently changes eligibility for the program to provide property tax relief or rent relief to 83,000 Mainers.
- Bolsters the Homestead Exemption Program: In the biennial budget passed by the Legislature in March, lawmakers expanded the Homestead Property Tax Exemption, allowing Mainers to take $25,000 off the value of their home and only pay property taxes on the remaining amount through the Homestead Exemption Program. Under the current program, municipalities are only reimbursed by the state at 70 percent of the cost. This limits the programs’ impact on property tax relief. This budget increases the reimbursement by 3 percent each year until the state fully reimburses the municipalities to cover the full cost program.
SUPPORTING STUDENTS, TEACHERS & SCHOOLS
- Makes historic investments in public education: The budget fulfills the state’s commitment to Maine schools, municipalities and teachers by funding 55 percent of K-12 public education costs as outlined in statute. This marks the first time Maine has met the 55 percent threshold since Maine voters passed a referendum in 2004 requiring the state to contribute 55 percent of funding for K-12 public schools. ‘
- Supports school capital improvement projects: The budget also adds $45M to the School Revolving Renovation Fund so schools can afford to make critical health, safety and capital upgrades. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed areas that need repair in schools all across the state. These funds will support these repair projects and others need to protect the health and safety of Maine teachers, students and school support staff.
- Supports higher education: The budget invests in the University of Maine System, Maine Community College System, and Maine Maritime Academy. It provides a 3 percent adjustment in funding each year to avoid tuition increases at each of the institutions, making it easier for Mainers to access workforce training and higher education.
- Addresses student hunger: The budget would make School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs available to all Maine students at no cost. Research has indicated that many families experiencing food insecurity do not qualify for school meals under the current eligibility guidelines. Given the projected increase in students likely to qualify for school meals in the wake of the pandemic, this will ensure that no student goes to school hungry.
- Invests in Maine’s workforce training through Career and Technical Education (CTE): Maine has not updated equipment and necessary capital improvements since 1997. The budget will support these improvements at CTE schools across Maine so students have access to the technology and tools they need to train for today’s economy.
SUPPORTING DIRECT CARE WORKERS, SENIORS AND VULNERABLE MAINERS
- Supports senior living facilities: The budget includes critical funding to maintain emergency rate increases that support nursing facilities and the hardworking professionals who care for the residents. Maine nursing homes and senior living facilities have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds will help the facilities continue to operate and care for our loved ones.
- Supports all direct care workers: The budget raises MaineCare wage rates for direct care workers to 125 percent of minimum wage. Direct care workers provide quality, compassionate and personalized care to the residents in their care. Paying direct care workers a fair, living wage recognizes the importance of their work and will help attract and retain quality professionals to this vital field.
- Supports Mainers with intellectual disabilities: The budget funds a rate increase to ensure that Mainers with intellectual disabilities can access adequate services.
- Funds preventative dental care: This measure will expand access to preventative dental care to an estimated 217,000 Mainers while saving the state in costly emergency room visits, cutting healthcare costs statewide.
- Invests in treating substance use disorder: The budget funds community treatment options and provides rate increases for recovery support services.
- Provides hazard bonuses for working Mainers: The budget provides a one-time $300 “hazard payment” to Mainers earning $75,000 or less as an individual; $150,000 or less for joint filers. This will support more than 500,000 Mainers who worked in unprecedented and hazardous circumstances during a one-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
- Preserves and protects Maine’s natural resources: The budget includes $40 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program to ramp up Maine’s land conservation efforts. In the wake of COVID-19, Maine’s conservation areas have experienced unprecedented foot traffic. These funds will play a vital role in supporting Maine’s outdoor recreation economy and Maine’s tourist economy. The budget also includes vital funds and 20 new DEP positions to clean up PFAS contamination.
- Grows the rainy day fund: The budget sets money aside for emergencies by adding a minimum of $60 million to the rainy day fund. This brings the total to $328.2 million — a historic high. For the past several years, lawmakers have made it a priority to responsibly set funds aside for emergency use should Maine experience an economic downturn. The budget continues this trend.
- Supports the work of the permanent commission: The budget provides critical funding for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations to promote, implement and coordinate programs that create and improve opportunities and incorporate the goal of eliminating disparities for historically disadvantaged racial, indigenous and tribal populations in the State.
- Exempts the sale of menstrual products from sales tax: Maine will become the next state to abolish taxes on these sales to remove barriers to accessing necessary menstrual products.