This third and last column on Gov. Paul LePage’s $6.5 billion budget explores education funding and further cuts to programs and services in the proposed budget.
Pre-K through high school education
The governor’s budget mandates the amount school districts must spend on elementary and high school education by $68 million. However, only $20 million of that increase is state funding, which means that municipal property taxpayers will have to raise $48 million more.
The governor’s budget would set 8.48 mills for education in fiscal year 2016. And it means the state’s share decreases to 46.2 percent, getting even further from the voter mandate of 55 percent. Furthermore, the governor’s plan takes away $4 million of casino funding intended to pay for pre-K programs, and increases the amount of teacher retirement contributions school districts must pay.
Teachers and school officials presented forceful testimony that the governor’s budget undermines public education with his $48 million tax shift onto property taxpayers and communities. Some noted that 58 percent of pre-K age children do not have access to programs. Teachers, mayors, parents, small business owners, the chamber of commerce, military and public safety officials from across the state urged lawmakers to prioritize investment in education at all levels to help improve Maine’s economic success.
Augusta Senior At-Large City Councilor Cecil Munson spoke on behalf of the city and the Mayors’ Coalition, and said they both oppose the proposed level of K-12 funding in the budget stating “The proposal fails on several counts:
- It fails to meet the legal obligation for state support for education, shifting significant burdens from the state to local property taxpayers;
- It fails to properly recognize the federal investment in education for poor and disadvantaged students through Title I;
- It continues the shift in teacher retirement costs first put in place in the last budget, as shift that again shifts costs to local property taxpayers.”
An organization of more than 120 Maine business leaders testified for keeping the pre-K funding, saying: “We are persuaded by careful studies demonstrating that wise, public policy investments in children are among the most effective ways of building a workforce for the globally competitive economy of the 21st century.”
MSP and DEL
The governor’s budget cuts to the Medicare Savings Program (MSP) and Drugs for the Elderly Program (DEL) would be disastrous for nearly 50,000 seniors and people with disabilities in Maine. When they can’t afford medicines or effective treatment to manage chronic health problems, the costs of their deteriorating health or assistance fall to communities. Being fiscally irresponsible and turning a blind eye to seniors with ongoing health needs is not the Maine way — nor is it a fiscally responsible way.
Fund for Healthy Maine
The same is true for LePage’s proposal to take $10 million of Tobacco Settlement funds away from prevention programs in the Fund for Healthy Maine. We pay for that in other ways, including lives cut short by preventable health problems.
Mental health services
Maine has a crisis right now in people unable to access the mental health services they need. It is impacting our hospital emergency rooms, our jails, and most importantly the people whose lives spiral out of control without the help they need. That’s why the cuts to Maine’s rural critical access hospitals and outpatient mental health services in the Governor’s proposed budget make no sense at all. Problems like these don’t get better by ignoring them, nor does deciding to do even less to address these chronic needs.
We can do better
I said in the first of this series that budgets reflect our values and priorities. As your legislator, I am working to understand what the budget does for Maine people. And it is clear we need a better budget that better reflects the priorities of Maine people. We must invest in our communities, prepare for the future, reduce future costs, and help Maine people thrive.
LePage’s budget proposes millions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, while undercutting the state’s economy, schools and healthcare for seniors. And by 2019, it creates a $300 million revenue shortfall. All of which is why the legislature will be working to create a better budget.