I am proud that voters will have a chance to vote on a school budget on June 14 that will support Biddeford students without squeezing our wallets. To explain why, I have to take you back to June 2015, which seems like quite a while ago now. It sure was a long month in the Legislature. We did not finish our work until 2 a.m. on several nights.
If we think back to the issues we were facing then, it was a time of great disagreement on the state budget, with the governor trying to eliminate the income tax entirely and also to dramatically increase the sales tax. That didn’t fly with either the House or Senate, but a compromise didn’t emerge until very late in the legislative session – well into that long month of June.
The compromise budget included many elements that members of both parties didn’t like. It wasn’t easy, but I voted for it, and it passed by a slim margin. The major reason I supported the budget was the more than $700,000 in new funding for Biddeford schools. I also supported the cut in income taxes that was included.
However, the final vote on the state budget came late in the session, after last year’s school budget was set and approved by Biddeford voters. Superintendent Jeremy Ray wisely set that new money aside for the upcoming year – the one we’re in now – and that is why we see a Biddeford school budget that brings in new funding for our schools but does not increase in our property taxes. The increase in State aid filled the gap, instead of our local property taxes.
I can also report that the compromise reached in the legislature in 2015 is working – state revenues are running solidly ahead of projections. Increased sales tax revenue, which out-of-staters also contribute to, is more than making up the difference. Even though it can seem like compromise is a thing of the past in our government, when push comes to shove there is a lot to be proud of in this budget and that’s why I am proud to serve our community in Augusta.
I am especially pleased that we improved the Earned Income Tax Credit in this compromise. This sounds complex but it’s really pretty simple – it provides a tax refund for Mainers who make less than the federal poverty level. That means if you are among the hard-working Maine people who are struggling to get by, often part-time, on wages of $8 or $9 an hour, you get a little economic boost at tax time in the form of an additional tax refund.
A budget is a reflection of the shared values of a community, and the education of our children is one of our most fundamental responsibilities. I am proud of the work we did in the Legislature to make sure the state budget recognized that responsibility. Now it is up to the voters of Biddeford to have their say. I hope to see you outside the polls at Tiger Gym at Biddeford High School at 22 Maplewood Ave on June 14, when the school budget is up for approval.