Reviewing the Back-to-Basics Budget

By Sen. Dave Miramant | Apr 15, 2021

Last month, I gathered once again in the Augusta Civic Center with my colleagues in the House and Senate to take up the biennial budget, among other measures. You may have already heard about this in the news, but I’d like to take some time to explain more about the budget that we passed and my thoughts on it. The budget that was proposed was based on the 2019 bipartisan, biennial budget that earned two-thirds support from the Maine Legislature. Instead of waiting until the last minute to pass a budget in June, we chose to vote on this budget that extended funds toward existing programs to keep the state open. I supported this approach because it gave Maine teachers, parents, workers and small businesses the stability they need to get back on their feet and plan for the future.

Among the measures in this budget that I support, I like the way it benefits working Mainers, school districts and our small businesses. For one, this budget extends Maine’s homestead exemption program which delivers significant property tax relief to homeowners. This budget also supports our school districts by making sure they know exactly how much funding to expect so that they can plan to return to safe in-person learning five days a week in the fall.

It also supports the tourism economy by guaranteeing that state parks and conserved lands will have the funding necessary to continue attracting tourists at unprecedented rates into the summer. I know that this will surely provide a sense of relief to our local small business owners who are banking on a summer of profits to make up for a year of losses.

After the challenges of the past year, I felt that this was the best way to go in order to guarantee stability for Mainers and to make sure that we didn’t risk a government shut down in the summer. I know just how much our community depends on tourism to fuel our economy, and I couldn’t bear the thought of risking a government shutdown that would jeopardize the opening of our state parks and other important landmarks.

Now that we’ve passed the biennial budget and funded existing programs, we can look to invest in other areas that are important to folks here in Knox County in a future supplemental budget. For one, I’m hoping that we can make some serious investments in infrastructure. You don’t need to look too far outside your own front window to see that our roads and bridges are in serious disrepair. The pre-pandemic estimate of MaineDOT's unmet need was $232 million per year. I believe that we need to invest in infrastructure improvements and development in our budget, not just through bonds.

Along with infrastructure investments, I also believe that we need to invest in measures that move folks to clean, renewable energy and vehicles, with rebates for doing so. This will allow us to chip away at our greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, creating new, good-paying jobs while doing so.

A future supplemental budget also provides us with the opportunity to address social inequalities. I’d like to see us increase the number of workers in each government department in order to make sure that the real level of need is being met. For example, we need more caseworkers at DHHS to help protect children from abuse, food insecurity and more. We also need to see serious change in the Department of Labor so that folks who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own aren’t waiting weeks to find out if they qualify for unemployment benefits or sitting on hold for hours on the phone to get the answers they need.

I also believe that it is well past the time to invest in mental health services, especially for folks in rural areas, so that we can move away from failed regressive criminal prosecution policies that punish people without giving them the supports they needed in the first place.

I voted for the biennial budget because I know it has some necessary basics for Maine taxpayers, seniors, families and children. Basics aren't enough when we have let income inequality and access to basic healthcare and education go wanting for so long. Now it's time to secure funding for other important programs in subsequent budgets, and I have many ideas ready based on my conversations with you.

If you have any other ideas, thoughts or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can call my office at 287-1515 or send me an email at david.miramant@legislature.maine.gov.

Senator Dave Miramant represents coastal Knox County in the Maine Senate.

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