2017-04-27 / Editorial

A state budget for all, not the chosen few

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

Budgets are all about priorities. Some are in tune with the needs of the general public and others miss the mark . . . by a lot.

The governor has proposed his two-year, nearly $7 billion state budget, and what’s his top priority? More tax cuts for the rich and less money for public schools, local roads and health care.

What’s missing from the governor’s budget? Anything resembling investment in our state’s people or its future.

The governor keeps more money in the pockets of the top 1 percent, hoping that money trickles down to the rest of us and is spent locally. There is no guarantee that will happen. When this is done on the backs of hardworking, middle class families who would most likely see an increase in their overall tax burden to pay for it, the governor’s plan lacks economic and common sense.

Senate and House Democrats in the Legislature could just say no, draw a line in the sand, and say we aren’t buying it. That would be the same obstructionist mentality that gets Congress nowhere. Instead, we presented our own plan, a positive, forward thinking alternative to the governor’s budget.

Instead of giveaways to the wealthy, we focus on working-class Mainers and communities. We provide the largest property tax relief program in Maine history. We can provide community college at zero cost to students. And we can back Maine’s innovators and small businesses so they can put Mainers back to work. And we do it all without raising taxes or using existing revenue streams. This is a state budget for all, not the chosen few.

With a focus on reducing the property tax burden, the Opportunity Agenda increases the Homestead exemption by $50 million, going from the current $20,000 exemption to $30,000. The governor’s budget actually eliminates the heavily used homestead exemption for anyone younger than 65. Our plan expands the Property Tax Fairness Credit to more low and middle income homeowners. We increase revenue sharing, the money that goes back to municipalities for essentials such as roads and police, by $64 million. This is money pumped directly back into our communities to fill budget gaps and keep property tax rates stable or even reduce them.

Funding the state’s share of education at the 55 percent rate isn’t just mandated by voters, but makes solid economic sense. It invests in our next generation to continue our high quality of schools we have, while avoiding unnecessary cuts to teachers and classrooms to fill tough budget cycles on the local level. We fully fund education in our agenda, the governor’s proposal does not while he shifts more of the educational cost burden to local districts that are already cash-strapped with rising costs and unfunded mandates.

We provide funding to ensure every student has access to community college to begin their journey to success. Student loan debt is crippling my generation and this injection of $24 million would ensure more people can start, stay and complete a degree in our community colleges.

A sprinkling of other priorities include addressing the opioid epidemic with a focus on treatment, expanding broadband to rural Maine, targeted workforce development, raises for direct care workers and increased access for veterans to obtain mental health care, to name a few.

To read our full plan, you can visit my website at www.justinchenette.com. We will also take our Opportunity Agenda on the road to present you with further details and hear directly from you, what your state budget priorities are. On Sunday April 30 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Saco City Hall, our Saco legislative delegation will hold a town hall style forum on our budget proposal and take your questions. Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson will be our special guest as we walk through key proposals and get your feedback. Please make plans to come out and make your voices heard. This is a great opportunity to influence decisions that impact you and your families.

The Opportunity Agenda is a transformational plan for Maine’s economy that pulls people together, instead of choosing winners and losers. It puts Maine families first, giving them the tools they need to build the future they deserve. We do it by lowering property taxes, making education attainable, promoting job growth and small business development. We can achieve this while rejecting unnecessary cuts and without raising additional taxes.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is owner of Chenette Media LLC, a multimedia public relations company, and is the president/ CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates atwww.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/ JustinChenette.com.

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