A quick note before we get to this month’s column on the biennial budget: Many of you probably saw that last week, Maine Superior Court Justice William Stokes sentenced Shawna Gatto, who killed her fiancé’s 4-year-old granddaughter Kendall Chick, to 50 years in prison. Files released by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) show that after they placed Kendall in Gatto’s care, they only followed up twice, violating their own protocols, and they closed her case ten months before she died. It’s clear that we in the Legislature must push for an honest, vigorous examination of the state’s child protection system and real reform. That’s exactly what I intend to do. – Sen. Bill Diamond
Two weeks ago, after an all-night session, the Legislature officially adjourned for the year. We tackled a lot of big topics this year, and at times things did get contentious, but at the end of the day we found a lot of common ground on which to move forward.
One of the biggest lifts of the session was passing a budget to fund the state government for the next two years. I’m proud to report that the budget that was passed was supported by both parties, stays within projected revenue without raising taxes, and funds important programs including property tax relief, child protection and more.
I want to commend my colleagues on the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, who were tasked with writing this budget. This year, there was an unprecedented level of bipartisan agreement on the committee: Of the 1,154 lines of the budget, all but seven were supported by every single Republican and Democrat on the committee. That is testament to the hard work and collegial attitude of those who served on the committee.
I believe that Mainers pay enough in taxes, and I was pleased to learn that the budget doesn’t raise the income or sales tax. In fact, the budget is balanced, as the Maine Constitution requires it to be, and it sets aside $18 million for the future in the state’s “Rainy Day Fund.”
The budget also lowers property taxes. I know too many seniors on fixed incomes and businesses and working families who are just trying to make enough to get by, for whom property taxes are a huge problem. The new budget provides $75 million in property tax relief for families, seniors and small businesses by expanding the Property Tax Fairness Credit to include roughly 13,000 additional people. Through this program, eligible Maine seniors can save up to $1,250 in property taxes and eligible working Mainers and families can save up to $800 on their property taxes. The budget also increases the Homestead Exemption, which helps folks save on their property taxes.
The budget funds other good programs too, including additional positions at the state’s Computer Crimes Unit, which investigates child pornography cases and has unfortunately been struggling with a backlog for many years. It also provides funding for 62 additional child protection workers; while it’s not a silver bullet, this is still a good and needed step toward addressing the shortcomings in our child protection system.
For these reasons, I was proud to support this budget.
As always, please feel free to contact me or my office with any questions, comments or concerns. You can call (207)287-1515 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a pleasure to serve you.