July 19, 2015

A bipartisan budget for Maine - By Rep. Mark Bryant

On June 30, the Legislature passed a state budget. It was a great moment of bipartisanship. We came together to avoid a state shutdown and put forward a strong budget for Maine. 
This budget was the result of weeks of public hearings, months of negotiation and bipartisan compromise. 

The nature of compromise is that no one gets everything they want. There are parts of the deal that I am not pleased with, but overall it is a fair budget and it moves us in the right direction. 

Even though this was a budget that both Democrats and Republicans agreed upon, the governor chose to veto it. This could have had a huge negative impact – not just in Augusta, but across the state. It would have cut off payment to hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Businesses would be forced to close their doors, unable to get the licenses and permits they need to operate. Thousands of public employees would be put out of work. State parks would be closed at the height of tourist season. A state shutdown would have had a damaging and lasting impact on our economy. 

Thankfully, this did not happen. Despite his efforts to throw us off course, legislators held firm and voted to override the governor’s veto.

I am proud of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for being responsible and respectful of our duty to serve Maine people. 

There are several good things in this budget, especially the tax relief that is largely targeted towards middle-class families. There are also several components of the budget that are especially good for Windham, including the preservation of Municipal Revenue Sharing, which will fund local police, fire and public works. Property taxpayers will benefit from the doubling of the Homestead Exemption to $20,000 and the protection of the mortgage deduction in the state tax code. Military pensions will now be exempt from the income tax.  

When all is said and done, Maine's tax code will become more progressive than under current law.  
The compromise also puts more resources towards education, which is essential to improving our economy in the long range. We increased K to 12 education funding by $80 million, which will not only help our students but will also take some pressure off property taxpayers – another win for Windham.
There will be an additional $10 million put towards scholarships and work study for college students. Funding will be increased for community colleges, which are important places to get a quality education and a job that pays a decent wage. 

The compromise budget reforms welfare by creating a tiered system that alleviates the impact of the welfare cliff – the sharp drop-off in benefits that takes place as recipients work more and their income increases. The goal is for people in poverty to move into sustainable employment.  

The budget also protects critical services like the Drugs for the Elderly and Medicare Savings programs. It also provides a modest raise for direct-care workers who care for seniors and the disabled, which will allow more seniors to stay in their homes longer as they age. 

These are just some highlights. It was forged in compromise through a process that was fair and balanced. I am proud that we were able to stand up for students, workers and middle-class families.
As always, please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions. You can reach me at mark.bryant@legislature.maine.gov.

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