Opinion: Mills’ proposed budget protects wellbeing. Lawmakers should choose to do more.
Governor’s budget proposal lays the foundation for Maine people and communities
During the last budget cycle, Governor Mills was the first Maine governor to honor the state’s funding commitment to K-12 education and to towns and municipalities for local services. At the same time, new funding for free community college, free school meals, and child care have proven vital to Maine students and families. The governor’s current budget proposal maintains or extends these important investments:
- Strengthening Maine’s care economy: Older Mainers, Mainers with disabilities, and Mainers with behavioral health challenges can live healthier, more stable lives when lawmakers invest in systems and workers that support them. The governor’s budget:
- Dedicates $490 million in state and federal funds to enhance availability of services
- Supports wage increases for workers provide care
- Expanding access to education and supporting student achievement: Public investment in Maine schools and education systems from pre-kindergarten to higher education better positions students to reach their full potential. The governor’s budget:
- Provides $10.5 million to expand pre-kindergarten which will enhance the performance of Maine children throughout their academic career and provide relief to families struggling to afford the cost of child care
- Extends the free school meal program
- Maintains the state’s commitment to funding 55 percent of the cost of public education
- Extends eligibility for free community college to additional classes of high school graduates
- Increases the value of the State of Maine Grant by $500
- Addressing Maine’s affordable housing crisis: Too many Mainers are struggling to secure safe, affordable housing. The governor’s budget tackles the need for more affordable housing and services:
- Commits $30 million in funding for affordable housing development in both rural and urban communities
- Provides $10 million in general assistance funding for local governments (which can be used to keep Mainers in their current homes). This funding is in addition to the $21 million in emergency shelter funding passed earlier this year.
Investments in health, education, and housing have a profound impact on Maine people and communities. The governor’s budget proposal lays a foundation for these investments.
State lawmakers can strengthen Maine’s economy even more
Mainers are working hard to provide for their families and keep our communities healthy and strong in turbulent times. In the coming months, lawmakers should choose to build on the governor’s proposal and do more to ensure people have the tools they need to succeed:
- Boost the economic security of families with children: The 2021 expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit temporarily halved child poverty and greatly benefitted Maine children through improved health, financial security, and educational outcomes. Unfortunately, this expansion lapsed at the end of 2021 and is no longer providing its full benefit to Maine families. Legislators can support families with children by increasing the state’s Child Tax Credit and making it refundable and by extending and increasing wage supplements for child care workers.
- Support workers’ needs to care for loved ones and to achieve retirement security: Lawmakers can support working families across the state by funding the necessary infrastructure for a paid family medical leave program. They can also significantly enhance the wellbeing of workers through cost-of-living adjustments for retired state workers that match recent inflation.
- Make urgently needed investments to address Mainers’ needs for affordable housing: To preserve both the health and stability of Mainers as well as the long-term economic wellbeing of the state, legislators should provide significant funding to a state emergency rental assistance program. To address the long-term lack of affordable housing, the Maine legislature should dedicate no less than $60 million to the development of affordable housing.
More work remains to ensure no one gets left behind and our ability to maintain critical investments isn’t compromised in the future
The strength of Maine’s fiscal position provides several opportunities for legislators to be more ambitious in budgeting and more impactful to the lives of Mainers. Expanding MaineCare eligibility to immigrants would address barriers to access as well as protect public health. Increasing funding for higher education to offset the historic enrollment decline in the University of Maine system would help Mainers become even better educated and improve the quality of and economic opportunities for Maine’s workforce. Lawmakers can also improve the state’s ability to provide these critical investments by reigning in wasteful, poorly targeted spending like the recently passed property tax freeze, the cost of which will continue to balloon each year.
Maine people and communities can thrive when they have the resources and tools they need to reach their full potential. During the upcoming budget negotiations, state legislators have choices to make transformational investments for our state. They should seize every opportunity to do so.
This post originally appeared at the Maine Center for Economic Policy blog.