The Maine House and Senate gave their overwhelming approval to a two-year, $6 billion state budget that provides tax cuts and reduces spending.

The House voted 120-26 for the package late Wednesday night, June 15. All local legislators except Rep. Andrew O’Brien, D-Lincolnville, voted for the budget.

The Senate voted 29-5 early Thursday, June 16 for the package with all three Republican state senators supporting the deal.

Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, said he supports the budget for several reasons. He noted the budget was developed with support from both parties and from public input.

The budget also provided education funding in a positive way, with no cuts to the higher education system; maintains a critical safety net infrastructure for the elderly, the disabled and infirm, children and families “while providing welfare reforms that will serve the state well into the future by putting our safety net on a more sustainable cost path”; and provides meaningful state pension reforms to assure the long-term sustainability of the pension system while working to minimize the necessary impacts to 83,000 retirees and current employees dependent on the system.

Rector said the budget also includes an historic tax cut that drops 70,000 taxpayers entirely from the tax rolls, while providing “meaningful tax relief for all Maine residents permitting Maine to be more competitive and allowing for businesses to invest and thrive.”

The budget also significantly reduced the legislative budget, he noted.

Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, said he was pleased that the budget doesn’t look much like the one that Gov. Paul LePage presented at the start of the session and instead restores money for pensions, mental health services, and child development services.

Kruger said he was also satisfied with the collaborative process on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

But the Thomaston Democrat said he rejects the Republican Party’s belief that teachers are the problem and public employees must bear a disproportionate part of the burden, while those who earn the most deserve a bigger tax break.
“The data from the past decade do not support the idea that big tax breaks for the top brackets create jobs. I fully recognize that spending cuts are essential; I fundamentally disagree with the priorities that are represented by the majority party,” Kruger said.

Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, said this was a great bipartisan effort.

“I like that we were able to save the cuts the governor presented for teachers and state workers pensions, yet we also modified the pension plans for new employees thus addressing the long-term unfunded liability,” Welsh said.

The Rockport Democrat said she also liked that money was retained for Maine Public Broadcasting Network and kept many needy, deserving people on Medicaid.

“I don’t like the transportation budget despite voting for it because it does not address the huge infrastructure needs of our state’s roads and bridges. I don’t like the lack of bonding for infrastructure improvements. We are just pushing big, big infrastructure needs further into the future at a time when interest rates are low and needs are high,” she concluded.

Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, whose district includes Washington, said the Appropriations Committee did a remarkable job putting together a budget that addresses many areas of concern.

“I appreciate that the impact to state employees and retirees was minimized and that a tax package that all Maine people can benefit from was able to be included,” Sanderson said.

Rep. Walter Kumiega III, D-Deer Isle, said he was pleased that the budget kept most of the safety net in place while making people more accountable and encouraging a transition to work. He also was satisfied that there was money included for water quality positions in the Department of Marine Resources that were needed for the shellfish industry. He also cited as a plus the fuel tax exemption for commercial fishing boats co-sponsored by himself, Rep. Kruger and Rep. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland.

Kumiega said the tax cut package was a double-edge sword. He supports the part that will result in 70,000 low-income Maine residents paying no taxes but noted they may get only $1 to $2 more a week from that change.

He noted he supported an amendment that would have raised the cost-of-living increase for people on teacher retirement but that it failed to be approved by the Legislature.