As your voices in Augusta, it’s the responsibility of legislators to pass policies that make life easier for you, and one big opportunity we have to do that is by passing a budget. I’m proud to share that on June 30, the Legislature passed a strong two-year budget with overwhelming bipartisan support, and Gov. Janet Mills signed that budget into law the very next day. The budget covers a lot of ground, but I want to share some information about how it supports Mainers in a few key areas.
One big goal we had this year is to ease the burden on property taxpayers, which is an issue I know is on the minds of many people in our community. One way we’re doing this is by fully funding 55 percent of K-12 education from state resources, which Maine voters first mandated 17 years ago but which we haven’t yet accomplished. The budget also sets us on a path to reach 5 percent revenue sharing in two years, meaning that our towns will get an increased share of any money the state brings in. Increasing the state resources shared with our towns in these two key ways eases the burden on property taxpayers.
We also permanently expanded the Property Tax Fairness Credit to cover 83,000 Mainers, with a one-time increase in the value of the credit for some. For low-income families, the value of the credit will increase from $750 to $1,200 this year only, and seniors will see an increase from $1,000 to $1,500. The budget also increases the value of the Homestead Exemption Program, allowing Mainers to take $25,000 off the taxable value of their homes. That’s money in the pockets of Maine families.
Over the course of the pandemic, the problems in our health care system became very obvious. One sector of our health care system that needs additional support are our direct care workers, who are too often underappreciated. This budget makes sure that all direct care workers in Maine are paid at least 125 percent of the minimum wage, a step in the right direction of recognizing the incredible work they do. The budget also allocates $20 million toward nursing facilities, which will be matched by $70 million in federal funds, to make sure Mainers who rely on these facilities, and the amazing workers who care for them, have adequate support. The budget makes other investments in services for Mainers with intellectual disabilities, for Mainers with substance use disorder, and it provides access to routine dental care for adults on MaineCare. Poor oral health leads to costly long-term health problems, and can even prevent people from getting a job, so providing access to this preventative care will save money and heartache in the long run.
We also invested in Maine’s climate future. We directed $40 million to the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program, which is the main vehicle we have for conserving land in our state. Since its inception in 1987, the LMF program has helped secure over 600,000 acres of land across all 16 counties for conservation and recreation purposes, with over half of those acres working lands – think forestry and farming. The program has also helped protect 26 working waterfront properties. This truly historic investment is key to protecting Maine’s land and waters for their natural, recreational and economic value.
We also focusing on PFAS identification and clean up, investing $27 million and funding 20 new positions within the Department of Environmental Protection. You’ve likely heard PFAS referred to as “forever chemicals,” because they don’t naturally breakdown, and their accumulation in our bodies has been linked to very bad health outcomes. However, PFAS are in many every day products and have contaminated soil, groundwater and drinking water in areas across our state. This dedicated effort to identify sites of contamination and work to clean them up is essential to the health and safety of our water, our farmlands, and of Mainers more generally.
I’m proud of the measures we were able to include in this budget, and very grateful that we were able to accomplish such good work in such a bipartisan way. If you have any questions about this budget or any of the Legislature’s work this session, if I can be of assistance or if you just want to connect, please reach out any time. My email is Chloe.Maxmin@legislature.maine.gov, my cell phone is (207) 200-6224, and you can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/ChloeForSenate. You can also sign up to receive my regular e-newsletter at mainesenate.org