Legislature enacts budget to end government shutdown
Final compromise puts resources in the classroom, boosts Head Start, sustains Clean Elections
AUGUSTA — Early in the morning on the Fourth of July, the Maine Legislature enacted a new biennial budget to end an unnecessary four-day-long shutdown that threatened thousands of Maine families and the state’s economy.
The shutdown began Friday at midnight, when 60 House Republicans refused to support a compromise budget agreed to by Senate Republicans and Democrats in both chambers. For three days, House Republicans and Gov. Paul LePage forwarded an ever-shifting list of demands, withholding the votes necessary to end the shutdown until they won additional concessions.
Meanwhile, the shutdown delayed or made unavailable state services, from routine business at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to more critical programs within the Office of Child and Family Services and the Department of Labor. The end to the shutdown puts 12,000 Maine workers back on the job with pay, ending the uncertainty and pain that came from being locked out of the job or being made to work without pay.
“Ever since Friday, Senate Democrats have had only one goal: End the manufactured crisis of this shutdown, put Mainers back to work, and keep our state open for business. Tonight, we achieved that goal,” said Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson. “This budget is not perfect. But with divided government, we were never going to get a budget we loved. In the end, we got a budget we can live with.”
The original $7.1 billion compromise budget, rejected by House Republicans, allocated an additional $162 million to Maine’s classrooms over the next two years, compared to the previous biennium. This education funding will decrease pressure on property tax payers, which has increased in recent years to make up gaps in state education funding.
To bring the budget over the finish line, Democrats and Republicans agreed to eliminate a 1.5 percent increase in the lodging tax and add $1.15 million in new Head Start funding, as well as budget language to prevent further cuts to support services for children and adults with severe and persistent mental illness. The budget also transfers an additional $3 million into the Maine Clean Elections Fund in 2018, guaranteeing that legislative and gubernatorial candidates will have access to public campaign financing.
“It has been a grueling six months, but I’m grateful to have played a role in writing a budget that rejected the worst of the governor’s proposals and gained ground for the people of Maine where we could,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the lead Senate Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and the six-member Committee of Conference, which hammered out the final budget deal.
Additional Budget Toplines:
- Bolsters property tax relief: Rejects an elimination of the Homestead exemption for most families, as originally proposed in Administration budget.
- Direct Care Worker Investment: Secures $14.25m additional funding for the direct care workforce which serves seniors and Mainers with disabilities.
- Invests in higher education: Provides operational funding for the University of Maine, keeping tuition affordable and higher education accessible
- Supports job training: Funds the Maine Community College Systems Strategic Workforce Initiative at $10 million, designed to give Mainers the skills and training necessary for immediate employment.
- Protects vital services: Rejects damaging cuts to Public Health Nurses and MaineCare.
- Improves disability services: Doubles the number of hours for Mainers who can receive services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities under the Section 29 waiver.
- Funds Rural Hospitals: Rejects cuts to reimbursement rates for Critical Access Hospitals who serve most of Maine’s uninsured throughout the state. This ensures that Critical Access Hospitals will continue to be reimbursed at a higher rate for the work they do and the people they serve.