Governor’s supplemental budget gives back half the budget surplus to Maine taxpayers, proposes tax relief for working families, increases Rainy Day Fund to record new high, and advances proposal for two-years of free community college to strengthen Maine’s workforce
Governor Janet Mills today introduced a supplemental budget proposal that returns half of the surplus back to Maine taxpayers, delivers crucial tax relief to working Maine families, and provides two years of free community college to pandemic-impacted students to strengthen Maine’s workforce. It also increases the Budget Stabilization Fund to more than $500 million, the first time in Maine history that state savings has ever surpassed a half billion dollars, and provides $100 million to the Maine Department of Transportation to fix roads and bridges, increasing an unprecedented level of General Fund support.
The Governor’s supplemental proposal aims to tackle the state’s most pressing problems, including pandemic-driven inflation that is hurting the pocketbooks of Maine people and the state’s longstanding workforce shortage, which is hampering the ability of employers to find employees.
“This budget proposal is bipartisan in nature, drawing on good ideas from both Republicans and Democrats to tackle some of Maine’s most pressing issues, like inflation and our longstanding workforce shortage, by giving back money to Maine people, delivering tax relief for working families, and providing two-years of free community college to help our students and our employers,” said Governor Janet Mills. “It accomplishes these important things in a fiscally-responsible manner while also increasing the Rainy Day Fund to a new, record high. I look forward to working with the Legislature as they consider this proposal and applaud them for the ideas we incorporated into it.”
“This proposal demonstrates our continued commitment to meeting the needs of Maine people and safeguarding the stability of State finances over the long-term,” said Kirsten Figueroa, Commissioner for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. “It builds on the bipartisan budget agreement of last year – which finally delivers 55 percent education funding and restores full revenue sharing – by providing relief to Maine people and tackling critical unmet needs across Maine — and all while increasing savings and protecting against potential economic slowdowns of the future.”
“This unprecedented level of General Fund support for infrastructure has been vital for our ability to deliver safe and reliable transportation for the people of Maine. We estimate that the $100 million proposed in the General Fund Supplemental Budget will leverage up to $284 million in federal, local, and other funds,” said Bruce Van Note, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation. “These funds will improve safety, economic opportunity, and quality of life for everyone who lives, works, and travels in our great state. We thank Governor Mills for her ongoing support for transportation.”
The supplemental budget comes after Maine’s nonpartisan Revenue Forecasting Committee (RFC) last year upgraded the State’s General Fund revenue forecast by 9.7 percent, or approximately $822 million, through Fiscal Year 2022-2023, which ends June 30, 2023.
In her supplemental budget, the Governor takes a cautious, fiscally-responsible approach, dedicating more than half of the surplus to one-time initiatives rather than ongoing spending, noting that the nonpartisan Revenue Forecasting Committee has said the long-term revenue projections are “volatile and susceptible to significant downside risk” in the years to come depending upon the course of the pandemic, Federal action, and inflation.
The proposal is balanced and builds off a previous budget measure passed nearly unanimously by the Legislature that achieves 55 percent of the cost of education, fully restores revenue sharing with municipalities, replenishes the Land for Maine’s Future Program, and provides a total of $371 million in relief to Maine people and business – including $285 Disaster Relief Payments to more than half a million Maine people.
It also complements the Governor’s Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, her Administration’s plan to use American Rescue Plan Act funding to improve the lives of Maine people and families, help businesses, create good-paying jobs, and build an economy poised for future prosperity.
Highlights of the Governor’s Supplemental Budget include:
Giving Back Money to Maine Taxpayers and Providing Tax Relief to Low- and Middle-Income Maine Families:
- Giving Back Half the Surplus to Combat Pandemic-driven Inflation: Consistent with the calls of Republican lawmakers, the supplemental budget proposes giving back half of the budget surplus – $411 million – to Maine taxpayers in the form of one-time $500 checks to help them deal with pandemic driven inflation. Get more information on the proposal (PDF).
- Providing More Property Tax Relief: Proposes $7 million in ongoing General Fund dollars to ensure stable housing by increasing the maximum benefit of Maine’s Property Tax Fairness Credit. If approved, an estimated 100,000 low- and middle-income property owners and renters who pay more than 4 percent of their household budgets on property taxes or rent will be eligible for a refundable tax credit valued at up to $1,000 each year, with an even more generous $1,500 in maximum relief extended to seniors.
- Increasing Tax Relief for Low- and Middle-Income Working Maine Families: Proposes $27.6 million in ongoing General Fund dollars so families can afford necessities and fight poverty by increasing the value of Maine’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which provides a refundable tax credit to working Maine people and families. This increase is estimated to help 100,000 Maine people, primarily working families with incomes of less than $57,414, by increasing the maximum benefit by an average of $400 per family, bringing the total EITC benefit per family to an average of $764 per year.
- Providing Retirement COLA: In response to retirement benefits for approximately 37,095 retired state employees and teachers not keeping pace with the rate of inflation, this proposes making a one-time infusion into the Maine Public Employee Retirement System (MePERS). This investment of $14.7 million funds a one-time payment to those retirees that reflects the gap between the Consumer Price Index, which was 5.4 percent for the most recent period, and the 3 percent cost of living adjustment for the same period, which is the maximum allowed by statute. It will help retirees grapple with rising costs, address in part the cuts made by the previous administration and recognize the gap between the public employee pension benefits and the benefits received by Social Security recipients.
These proposals build on the $371 million the Governor has returned to Maine people and Maine businesses, including sending $285 checks to more than 500,000 hardworking men and women in Maine and millions more in tax relief for Maine people and businesses.
Championing Fiscal Responsibility & Reducing Borrowing:
- Increasing Rainy Day Fund to New, Record High: Proposes adding $10 million in one-time General Fund dollars to the Budget Stabilization Fund, or so-called Rainy Day Fund, bringing it to a new record high of $502.8 million – the first time in Maine history that state savings have surpassed half a billion dollars. Under Governor Mills, Maine’s Budget Stabilization Fund has more than doubled.
- Unprecedented Investments to Fix Roads and Bridges: Proposes transferring $100 million to the Maine Department of Transportation to repair roads and bridges, preventing for the first time in years the need to bond for transportation money. This builds on the biennial budget signed into law by Governor Mills that dedicates another $50 million to the Maine Department of Transportation for capital projects being constructed this year and stipulates that MaineDOT receive 20 percent of excess General Fund revenues through the “cascade.” In total, this will amount to more than $205.9 million this year – an unprecedented General Fund investment to improve Maine’s transportation infrastructure.
- Maintaining 55 Percent Education Funding: Proposes the creation of an Education Stabilization Fund, capitalized with $30 million one-time General Fund dollars, to help the State maintain its commitment – achieved for the first time ever under Governor Mills – to fund public schools at 55 percent in the future.
- Bolstering Medicaid Stabilization Fund: Proposes $30 million in one-time General Fund dollars to the Medicaid Stabilization Fund, funded by the Mills Administration in 2019, to budget responsibly for MaineCare.
Investing in Education to Tackle the Workforce Shortage and Improve Opportunities for Students:
- Providing Two Years of Free Community College: Proposes $20 million in one-time General Fund dollars to provide up to two years of free community college for all students from the high school graduating classes of 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 who enroll in a Maine community college full-time. Get more details on the Governor’s Free Community College proposal (PDF).
- Overhauling the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit: Proposes $42.1 million in ongoing General Fund dollars to dramatically overhaul Education Opportunity Tax Credit (“Opportunity Maine”) and transform it into a powerful, nation-leading tool to retire student debt for graduates and help employers to draw people from all walks of life to work and live in the State of Maine, consistent with the goals of a working group led by Senator Matthew Pouliot (R-Kennebec). Get more information about the proposal (PDF).
- Preventing Tuition Hikes Across University of Maine System: Proposes nearly $8 million in one-time General Fund dollars to help the University of Maine System keep tuition flat for in-state students.
- Increasing Pay for Child Care Workers and Early Childhood Educators: Proposes more than $12 million in ongoing General Fund dollars to increase pay for child care workers and early childhood educators to strengthen our child care system across Maine, consistent with the goals of legislation sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, and in addition to the significant investments the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan makes in expanding child care and Pre-K education.
- Fully Funding Free School Meals: Proposes nearly $27 million in ongoing General Fund dollars, to be combined with the $10 million previously set aside by the Governor and Legislature, to fully fund universal free meals in public schools, consistent with an initiative spearheaded by Senate President Troy Jackson.
This proposal builds on investments made in the currently enacted budget that fully funds the state’s share of K-12 public education for the first time in Maine history, improves funding to Maine’s public higher education institutions by 3 percent each year, invests in Maine’s workforce training through Career and Technical Education (CTE), and makes deposits into the School Revolving Renovation Fund for schools to make critical health, safety, and capital upgrades.
Strengthening Maine’s Health Care System and Child Welfare System:
- Increasing MaineCare Rates: Proposes $30 million from the General Fund to fully implement updated rates for direct support worker wages, add and accelerate new cost-of-living adjustments for rates, and raise rates to be sufficient to pay direct support professionals at 125 percent of minimum wage.
- Supporting Maine Hospitals and Nursing Homes: Proposes sending $25 million in one-time funding to Maine hospitals, including $6.8 million from the General Fund, as well as $25 million in one-time funding to long-term care facilities, including $7.5 million from the General Fund, to help these Maine health care organizations deal with one-time pandemic related costs.
- Supporting Long-Term Care Facilities: Proposes sending $7.6 million in one-time dollars to nursing and residential care facilities, including $1.9 million from the General Fund, to assist with labor costs through June 30, 2022, the end of the 2022 Fiscal Year; proposes $5 million in one-time General Fund add-on money to help private non-medical institutions (PNMI Cs) provide care for residents who are older or have disabilities; and proposes $6.1 million in ongoing General Fund money for in-home and community services to help keep older Maine residents in their homes rather than in residential care facilities and hospitals.
- Improving the Child Welfare System: Proposes nearly $8 million to improve Maine’s child welfare system, with $6.2 million from the General Fund, including additional child protective staff and implementation of timely recommendations from Maine’s Child Welfare Ombudsman, nationally recognized experts at Casey Family Programs (PDF), and proposals from the Maine Child Welfare Advocacy Network (PDF) (MCWAN), the Maine Child Welfare Advisory Panel (PDF), and Maine lawmakers.
The supplemental budget also proposes approximately $9.2 million in General Fund dollars to address PFAS contamination in Maine, including: $3 million for additional direct support to Maine’s farms and farmers, $3.2 million to make capital investments that improve environmental laboratory testing capacity in Maine for PFAS, with $1 million specifically to the Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory at the Maine CDC; and $750,000 for wildlife testing.
This comes on top of the $30 million for PFAS remediation secured by the Governor in the current biennial budget, which includes $10 million to help farmers impacted by PFAS and $20 million for sampling and private drinking water treatment systems.
The supplemental also includes $300,000 in one-time General Fund dollars to fund an actuarial study of a potential statewide paid leave policy; $137,000 in one time for Maine family planning clinics to help them deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic; $1 million in one-time General Fund dollars for the Length of Service Award Program, tripling the current funding available to the program for the retirement of firefighters and EMS professionals; and $1.5 million in one-time General Fund monies to provide grant funding for durable greenhouses for schools and community centers for shared and educational uses and to enhance community-based opportunities for food production.
The budget also leaves nearly $12 million in unappropriated funding for the discretion of lawmakers.
The complete proposal is publicly available on the bureau of the budget website.