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Session winds down with state budget in place

By Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town

July 10, 2015

The legislative session is winding down. The Legislature is scheduled to meet at the State House one more day, July 16, to take final votes on remaining vetoes from the governor before officially adjourning for the year.

On June 30, the Legislature finally passed the two-year state budget into law by overriding the governor’s veto. The budget is balanced and prevented a state shutdown, which would have hit Mainers across the state hard and hurt municipalities, schools, hospitals and businesses.

The budget we passed into law was the result of months of negotiations, public input and bipartisan compromise. The final product will provide Maine families with property tax relief, fund local police, fire and public works departments and invest in education and workforce development.

Though we didn’t agree on every issue, the budget is the product of lawmakers coming together to do what is best for the people of Maine. I’m proud of that bipartisan work.

The budget includes a fully paid-for tax cut of $135 million per year, with 75 percent of the cut benefiting the bottom 90 percent of families. We also nearly doubled the standard deduction to $11,600 and made the Earned Income Tax Credit refundable.

The budget provides both direct and indirect property tax relief. We doubled the Homestead Exemption for all Maine families to $20,000 while increasing funding for K-12 public education and preserving municipal revenue sharing. These investments by the state will take some of the pressure off local property taxpayers while funding our schools, police and fire departments and other local services.

Along with the additional funding for K-12 education, the budget invests an additional $28 million in higher education through the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems. It provides $10 million for scholarships to help Mainers pay for college through the Maine State Grant program and puts $1 million toward job training for Maine workers.

While the budget has been in the spotlight, the Legislature has also worked on hundreds of other bills over the session. Though many did not gain the support necessary to pass, a few hundred will become law. Still others will be carried over for consideration when the Legislature reconvenes for its second session.

Earlier this month, one of the bills I sponsored this session, LD 756, became law without the governor’s signature. The measure strengthens the Address Confidentiality Program, an important program that keeps the personal information of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking out of the hands of their abusers.

Another bill I sponsored, which would require food containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled, will be carried over to next session. The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, which I am a member of, will take this bill back up when we reconvene in January.

As I wrote about in my last column, my bill to take initial steps toward bringing passenger rail back to Bangor failed to clear its final hurdle this session, but the overwhelmingly support for the idea shows the momentum behind it. Despite the fate of this particular bill, I will continue to work to expand passenger rail in Maine.

As always, please feel welcome to contact me by email at Rep. Dunphy or at 745-3088 with questions or concerns related to state government. It is an honor to serve as your representative.

Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, is serving her first term in the Maine House of Representatives. She represents Old Town and Indian Island and is a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.