As budget deadline nears, activists fight tax cuts for rich
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine lawmakers are still working on a budget as a deadline looms, liberal activists call for an end to tax cuts for the wealthy and the Democratic governor vows to not raise taxes.
The Legislature’s appropriations committee is set to meet early next week to finish up their work. The budget talks this year have so far avoided contentious negotiations that led to a three-day shutdown under a divided government in 2017.
This time around, the loudest pushback on the budget is coming from activists calling out Democrats: The Maine People’s Alliance rallied Thursday to call for an end to tax cuts benefiting the wealthy that were passed under the former Republican governor. That money, they argued, could provide more funding for opioid treatment, education and other efforts.
“I think it’s impossible to even maintain adequate programs with increasing taxes on something,” said retired college instructor and former alliance board member Susann Pelletier, 66, of Lewiston.
Such activists argue that ending tax cuts for the wealthy isn’t the same as a tax increase, and that the state is underfunding municipal-revenue sharing while failing to spend enough as it’s legally obligated to on education funding.
Single mother Zainab Miguel, 35, of South Portland, said Maine must prioritize benefits for asylum-seekers and other immigrants.
“If they invest in them as being healthy and sheltered, they have the potential there to make money grow,” she said.
But whether such arguments will gain ground is unclear, as Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has vowed to not raise taxes. Instead, she’s proposed to boost education and health care spending without any tax hikes in an $8 billion, two-year budget that’s an 11% increase over the current $7.2 billion budget.
Mills’ budget includes nearly $150 million for Maine’s share of voter-approved Medicaid expansion for at least 70,000 Mainers, while also setting aside an additional $29 million in a Medicaid reserve account.
Other initiatives include a $40,000 minimum teacher salary statewide, filling more than two dozen public health nursing positions, renewable energy initiatives, increasing tobacco prevention efforts and a four-year plan to fund voluntary universal pre-kindergarten.
The Legislature is set to adjourn June 19, and the current two-year budget runs through the end of June.
Lawmakers will need two-thirds approval in both Democratic-led chambers to pass the budget.
Instead of tax hikes, the governor is relying on projections of healthy tax revenue in future years.
Mills recently proposed sending $20 million of expected increased tax revenues into the rainy day fund, in case of economic downturn. Republicans had requested such a move but have also criticized Mills’ budget for increasing spending too much.
If the Legislature passes Mills’ proposal, that will leave $16.5 million in surplus revenue available for lawmakers to spend as they see fit, according to her office.
Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine, the House chair of the Legislature’s joint appropriations committee, has said Democrats’ priorities include property tax relief, which some lawmakers hope to boost in Mills’ proposal.