March 14, 2012
AUGUSTA – Democratic lawmakers released the following statement on the LePage administration’s $37 million in proposed changes to the two-year statewide budget. The governor’s proposal includes significant cuts to general assistance for cities and towns, cuts to higher education and MPBN, and also provides tax cuts on pensions, and gives new sales tax exemptions.
Today, the State Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee heard detailed presentations on the changes to the budget from the commissioners of Health and Human Services, Education, and Maine Revenue Services.
“In the final weeks of legislative work, we are being asked to make major policy changes, not just a typical budget correction to balance the books,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the lead House Democrat on the Appropriations committee. “While the administration is increasing new spending by tens of millions of dollars, we are being asked to make terrible cuts that will impact our students, cities and towns.”
“These proposals feel more like a political ploy than a true budget,” said Senator Dawn Hill, D-York, the Senate Democrat on the Appropriations committee.
The budget proposes adding three additional tax exemptions, one which will increase the state’s pension exemption from $6,000 to $35,000 over the next five years. The pension exemption will not take effect until the next budget.
Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the lead Democrat on the Taxation Committee, said the proposal to exempt additional pension income without paying for it will “run up the state bills to $105 million per year starting in 2019 and beyond.”
"Most Maine families and businesses don't buy what they can't afford,” said Berry. “The M.O. of this Governor and Republicans is clear: Enact future tax breaks now, take credit for them, and then let others make the tough choices to pay for them later.”
Berry also said the prior budget had included tax cuts for the wealthy that will leave a $400 million whole starting in the next two-year budget.
The other exemptions include a wood harvesting and horticultural exemption, and one for certain kinds of medical equipment.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew presented the governor’s plans to make significant changes to the General Assistance Program including caps on programs, eligibility changes and reductions in the reimbursement rates to municipalities.
“Yet again, the governor’s policies are putting our most vulnerable in jeopardy, while shifting costs to our cities, towns, and to the taxpayer,” said Senator Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, the Democratic Senator on the Health and Human Services Committee.
Craven added, “This cuts our communities off at the knees and creates an immediate crisis.”
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen presented the governor’s proposal to cut $2.4 million from higher education institutions and eliminates funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
“This is absolutely the wrong time to cut higher education,” said Senator Justin Alfond, D-Portland, the assistant Senate Democratic leader and member of the Education Committee. “Education is critical to strengthening the middle class and creating jobs.”
During the presentation, the president of the Community College System told the Appropriations and Education and Cultural Affairs Committee that the cuts would limit its abilities to serve students and could result in turning students away.
“Leaders should be investing in higher education to ensure more access to higher education. Our workforce must have the critical skills required by employers in our state,” said Alfond.
The Education budget changes also include eliminating the total funding of $1.7 million to MPBN.
“It was just a few months ago when Maine people resoundingly rejected the governor’s proposed cuts,” said Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth, a member of the Education committee. “MPBN provides crucial emergency and education services in our rural state.”
Public hearings on the budget proposals will be held next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
Jodi Quintero [Rotundo, Berry, Nelson,] 287-1488, c. 841-6279
Ericka Dodge [Alfond, Hill, Craven] 232-5892