2017-07-13 / Editorial

New state budget benefits Biddeford

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

The budget process for the state of Maine was more divisive and difficult this year than it has been in the past. We missed our deadline of midnight on June 30 and did not finally pass a state budget until 1 a.m. on July 4, resulting in a brief state shutdown. I hope this did not impact you or your holiday plans.

There were some significant successes. Federal Title 1 education funding that comes to our school system because of a high rate of poverty has long been deducted from our state education allocation. This effectively zeroes out the benefit. This is bad for our schools and I would argue, doesn’t make any sense. That’s why, along with other local representatives, I have long been fighting to change this policy. We were determined to fix that this year and were ultimately successful. We will now see the benefit of federal Title 1 funding in our Biddeford schools.

As you may recall from letters sent out back in February from the city, the governor had proposed to entirely eliminate the homestead exemption for those younger than age 65.

We were able to block this and cement the increase in the Homestead Exemption at $20,000 this year and next. Together with the new education funding, this should result in property tax relief. Rising property taxes remains the number one issue you have been telling me about for my length of service to date.

We also protected the minimum wage, which is now $9 and will go up to $10 next year, and increased the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families benefit from $485 to $582 per month for a family of three – the first increase in 16 years. We dedicated an additional $3 million a year to provide fuel assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to low income families with children. The budget also secures $14.25 million in additional funding for the direct care workforce that serves seniors and Mainers with disabilities.

To promote careers in the trades, we funded the Maine Community College Systems Strategic Workforce Initiative at $10 million, and will allow sixth through eighth graders to participate in programs at the Center of Technology.

All of this was done with no new taxes, and in fact a significant tax reduction, with the removal of the 3 percent tax surcharge that had been in effect for the first half of 2017. Some positions were eliminated at the state level, primarily those that were vacant and unfilled.

It is good to have the budget enacted, but our work in the Legislature is far from done. We will be convening again to consider vetoes from the Governor, notably on solar energy policy. As always, I appreciate your help and feedback. Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature. Outside the legislature, he is chair of the Solid Waste Commission, and hosts a podcast for entrepreneurs called The Grow Maine Show, available on Apple Podcasts. Sign up for legislative updates at www.growmaine.com or facebook.com/repgrohman.

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