House and Senate GOP split on major initiatives

AUGUSTA – Members of the budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee met all day Friday building the 2017-2019 state budget, line by line. Democrats issued a majority report with sweeping changes to the governor’s original proposal, focusing their efforts on protecting property tax relief for working families, full funding of K-12 public education and rejecting a number of harmful and unnecessary cuts. Each funding line required individual votes to determine whether the funding, and its related policy, was included in the budget. Where members of the committee disagreed, separate budget proposals were created to be considered by the full Legislature.

“Democratic members of the Appropriations committee crafted a responsible budget that strengthens Maine’s economy, while working within existing resources,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. “By focusing our efforts on property tax relief and the full funding of public education, our budget charts a path forward for a prosperous Maine. It was imperative that we reject the most destructive parts of Governor LePage’s proposal and instead create a budget that reflects the opportunities Mainers have demanded.”

The committee has historically sought consensus in crafting the two-year state budget, allowing for a simple up-or-down vote in the House and Senate. However, Republicans’ have still not committed to fully funding Maine’s public schools and the AFA committee was forced to vote out four reports. House Republicans were inconsistent throughout the proceeding, unable to determine a position for education funding. Eventually, Senate and House Republicans each issued their own reports on multiple issues, due to an inability to find consensus not only with Democrats, but within their own party.

“Democrats on the Appropriations committee have a plan to make sure that this budget prioritizes long term solutions that strengthen middle class families, schools, and seniors,” said AFA chair, Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook). “We also thought it was essential to fully fund public education, as demanded by the voters – twice. Unfortunately, our colleagues have failed to accept the results of last November’s referendum. Until we can agree on fully funding education, we are at an impasse at the committee level.”

Democratic lawmakers reiterated a need for vital investments in broadband and revenue sharing, along with a commitment to increasing reimbursement rates and paying a fair wage to those who care for the health and wellbeing of our families. Although this was not accomplished in the initial report, as negotiations continue Democrats will to push for these critical initiatives.

Highlights of the Democratic committee report:

Increases investment in Maine students, schools, and teachers and full funding of K-12 public education at $320 million, as demanded by voters TWICE.
Bolsters property tax relief: Rejected an elimination of the Homestead exemption for most families, as originally proposed in Administration budget. Decreased mandated mil rate by 1% with increased school funding.
Rejects new tax increases: Eliminates Republican proposal of sales tax expansion.
Invests in higher education: Funds the University of Maine system.
Supports job training: Funds the Maine Community College Systems Strategic Workforce Initiative, designed to give Mainers the skills and training necessary for immediate employment.
Protected vital services: Rejected damaging cuts to Head Start, MaineCare and Community Family Planning.
Improves disability services: Doubles the number of Mainers who can receive services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities under the Section 29 waiver.
Address Maine’s Opioid Epidemic: Increased funding for Opioid Health Homes.
Strengthens Consumer protections: Retains funding to the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s office.

For more information on specific votes, click here.