Yesterday, House and Senate Democrats rolled out a budget proposal that delivers where Governor LePage’s budget failed. We’ll be diving into the details in the coming days but our first take is that it gets to work solving the problems Maine people have been asking their elected officials to fix so that we can have a strong economy and thriving communities.
The Democratic Opportunity Agenda rejects the governor’s request for more tax cuts for the wealthy while increasing taxes for everyone else. It targets available resources to key priorities like getting treatment for those suffering from addiction, providing job training for careers that will support a family, and expanding access to critical early childhood education programs.
These investments are not only needed now, but are essential to rebuilding a foundation in Maine for an economy that cultivates opportunities for all Mainers to succeed, not just those at the top. The key components are: building strong infrastructure, funding quality public services, providing great public schools and community colleges, and ensuring basic needs are met. The Opportunity Agenda would move the state in the right direction on each of those measures.
Central to their plan is a comprehensive approach to lowering property taxes. It starts by ensuring that the wealthiest pay their fair share. The voter approved 3% surcharge on income over $200,000 makes it possible to fully fund the state commitment to schools, reducing the cost shift to towns and property taxpayers. The Opportunity Agenda upholds the will of the voters who passed Question 2 out of concern for the need for better schools and years of rising property taxes resulting from tax cuts for the wealthy shifting costs onto communities. Undoing the surcharge, as the governor and Republicans have proposed, would be a tax cut for the wealthiest Mainers.
In addition, the new marijuana, Amazon, and AirBnB sales taxes and modest economic growth mean there are resources to invest in a stronger economy and thriving communities.
A portion of the new revenues are used to increase the homestead exemption from $20,000 to $30,000 and expand the property tax fairness credit. Revenue sharing would increase to 3%, helping communities who have had to cut services or been unable to replace old equipment in recent years.
The remainder of the new revenues is put to work investing in both long-delayed priorities and innovative new ideas.
The Maine economy cannot be strong without a healthy workforce and quality health care services for Mainers of all ages. The Opportunity Agenda would fund efforts to address the opioid crisis that continues to devastate families and communities. It would expand access to mental health care for veterans and increase wages for the people who care for aging Mainers and those suffering from illness or disability.
Democrats would invest in well-educated workers with the skills to get the jobs of the future and, largely through a strong bond package, create technology and transportation systems that allow home-grown Maine businesses to succeed, grow, and hire more workers. It would invest funds to boost pre-K and Head Start programs, provide scholarships to fully fund community college attendance, and reduce the student loan debt burden. It would use existing federal funds to make sure Maine families can access basic needs, reducing barriers for kids living in poverty and their parents to succeed.
While the governor’s plan would give yet another tax cut to the rich and raise taxes on nearly everyone else, the Opportunity Agenda instead invests in Mainers’ shared priorities. It’s a strong proposal that speaks to the need for a world class education for all Maine kids, workers getting the resources they need to start or change careers, and putting a halt to the years of cost shifts to property taxpayers and communities.
MECEP will be putting out more information in the coming weeks that details impacts of these proposed policies on Maine families and communities.