Legislature sends strong bipartisan budget to the governor’s desk

AUGUSTA — Today, the Maine Legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strong, responsible bipartisan budget that includes 55 percent state funding for education, a full restoration to revenue sharing by the end of the Fiscal Year 2023, and critical funding for senior living facilities and direct care workers. The vote was 123-23 in the House and 32-2 in the Maine Senate. 
“Today, the Maine Legislature sent a strong, bipartisan budget to the governor’s desk that makes good on long-standing promises and obligations to the people of the state of Maine. It funds 55 percent of education funding for the first time since voters mandated it more than a decade ago, it prioritizes property tax relief for Maine families and seniors so they can afford to stay in their homes and in our communities, and returns $150 million to more than 500,000 extraordinary workers who showed up time and time again throughout the pandemic,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “After a year of uncertainty and hardship, this is the type of budget Maine families, communities and small businesses deserve. I’m so grateful to my colleagues on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee for putting aside partisanship and making this happen.”
“Through this budget, we will usher in meaningful change, extending 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 coming in December. 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. “This is one of the strongest votes on a budget in my time in the Legislature. The bipartisan support for this budget is something we can be proud of.”
“This budget exemplifies what we can achieve when we work together in good faith and coalesce around a shared set of priorities. It makes critical investments in education, public health, our environment that are long overdue, and invests the future of our state,” By sending this budget to the governor’s desk, the Maine Legislature is sending a clear message to the people of the state of Maine: bipartisanship is alive and well in Augusta,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, Chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “By sending this budget to the governor’s desk, the Maine Legislature is sending a clear message to the people of the state of Maine: bipartisanship is alive and well in Augusta.”

“This budget makes historic investments in education and the environment. We are funding much-needed Career and Technical school capital upgrades that will help train Maine’s workforce. We are preventing tuition increases in our higher education system. We are ensuring no Maine child goes hungry at school. We are finally fulfilling the state’s commitment to Maine schools by funding 55 percent of K-12 public education costs. This marks the first time Maine has met the 55 percent threshold since voters passed a referendum in 2004. We are investing $40 million to conserve public lands through Land for Maine’s Future.” said Rep. Teresa Pierce, House Chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “In addition to these initiatives, we are maintaining strong fiscal responsibility, so we ensure the things we are doing today will be able to be sustained for years to come.”
LD 221 goes to the governor’s desk for her approval. The governor has ten days to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without her signature. As emergency legislation, the measure would take effect immediately.

“For years, the Maine Education Association and our thousands of members have advocated for 55% State funding for our public schools to support students and ease the property tax burden. Voters have asked for 55% State funding for our schools since 2004, and MEA appreciates the work of this Legislature and the Governor to finally fulfill that voter mandate,” said Grace Leavitt, President of the Maine Education Association and a Spanish teacher on leave from Greely High School in MSAD 51. “Our schools should have the educators, staff, funding, and support needed for every student to be successful, and finally fulfilling the state’s obligation to public schools is a huge, historic step in the right direction. We thank Governor Mills, legislative leaders, and all of the legislators and supporters who helped make this happen. Next school year, our students will have more needs than ever before, and while the educators in our state are ready for the challenge, the funding provided by the State, with this budget, will help make sure our kids get the one-on-one attention they need and deserve.”

“Maine’s long term care facilities have been the battleground for COVID-19 and the Maine Health Care Association is grateful for the bipartisan support for nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the new biennial budget. Our dedicated employees have worked tirelessly caring for residents whose lives were upended by the pandemic. Caring for people during this time came with atypical and exorbitant costs. MHCA applauds the leadership of Senate President Jackson and Speaker Fecteau as they worked with Senate Republican Leader Timberlake and House Republican Leader Dillingham, to support our caregivers.  We welcome the additional level of relief agreed upon today, which builds on the Mills’ Administration’s original budget proposal for long-term care. These funds are absolutely critical to ensuring the continuation of the highest quality care for thousands of Maine’s older residents,” said Rick Erb, President/CEO of Maine Health Care Association. “MHCA and its members appreciate the steadfast support we’ve received from the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency. Senator Breen and Representative Pierce, as Chairs, led the way with Republican Senator Davis and Representative Millett to ensure Maine’s long term care facilities were not left behind in the State budget process. We also thank Senator Baldacci for his commitment to the staff and residents in our care. His specific legislation, allowed us to continue these important funding conversations.”

“The Maine Council on Aging is grateful to the Legislature for taking swift and meaningful action to support Maine’s Essential Support Workers – those who provide vital assistance with core aspects of life to tens of thousands of older people, people who have physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, and those with behavioral health challenges,” said Jess Maurer, Executive Director of the Maine Council on Aging.  “Setting the labor portion for all reimbursement rates for this work at 125% above minimum wage will make wages more competitive, increase wages for current workers, and ensure people can get the help they need.  This investment is good for Maine’s people, workforce, and economy.”
Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio of Sanford, representing the Mayors’ Coalition:
“Revenue sharing is an important partnership between the state and municipalities that recognizes the important services provided through local government and the limits imposed by the State on municipal authority to raise revenues. Revenue sharing therefore is a key tool in keeping property taxes in check, while allowing for the funding of basic services including public safety and adequate school budgets.” 
Peggy Rice, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989:
“State-municipal revenue sharing is a proven and effective way to ensure that cities and towns are able to provide necessary services to their communities. It is critical that we restore revenue sharing, which will allow municipalities to provide important services to Mainers.” 
Mayor Michael Foley of Westbrook, representing the Mayors’ Coalition: “When the state underfunds education, it causes municipalities to cut other areas within our budgets and/or increase property taxes as in the example shared. With improvements in education funding and municipal revenue sharing, this will help our communities to better manage growth in the property tax and allow us to continue to deliver critical services without drastic impacts.”
Neal Goldberg, Maine Municipal Association: “The largest municipal expenditure is funding the local share of K-12 education. Depending on the portion provided by the state, the municipal share can consume over half of all property tax revenue. This heavy tax burden leaves municipalities with limited resources to provide the remaining services that their residents require. If the state meets its obligatory 55 percent commitment for K-12 education, municipalities could redirect funding to improve other vital services.”
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

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