Maine lawmakers adjourned the 2019 legislative session, passing a two-year budget of $8 billion for FY20 and FY21, absent the partisan rancor of previous years. The budget contains no tax increases or tax cuts. Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby (D-Lewiston) noted the budget committee cast more than 1,100 votes on budget line items with 99% being unanimous. The budget was the first for new Democratic Gov. Janet Mills who kept her promise to fund the voter-approved expansion of Medicaid.
Healthcare, social services
The budget funds $125 million to expand Medicaid (Maine Care) for 70,000 eligible Mainers, as approved by voters in 2016. It also funds expansion of the Drugs for the Elderly program to 800 additional seniors and provides funding for 48 new positions and a new unit at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.
It increases funding by $5.5 million for opioid and drug prevention programs from the Fund for a Healthy Maine for prevention efforts. Also funding will increase for the weekly rate for medication-assisted treatment and the 24-month limit for medication-assisted treatment will be eliminated.
For child protection services, the budget adds 62 new child protection workers and funds $3 million for Child Development Services, which includes early intervention for young children.
Lawmakers approved an increase of $111 million for K-12 education and increased the state’s share of funding for K-12 to 51%.
They also approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millet, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, to increase the minimum pay for teachers to $40,000 over three-year period and setting aside funds for local school districts to meet the increases.
Maine also expanded eligibility for children for free school breakfast and lunch.
The budget increases base funding for the University of Maine System by 3% or about $18 million. Lawmakers also invested $3.1 million to expand the Early College programs and reduce student debt. An additional $4.1 million is slated to be invested in the Adult Degree Completion program.
Lawmakers also passed a student loan bill of rights to regulate student loan services (LD 995). The legislation protects borrowers and makes loan servicing companies accountable, especially those companies that have used predatory practices to hit Maine borrowers with unnecessary fees, high interest rates and, in some instances, default.
Cities, towns and homeowners
Maine’s cities and towns will receive an additional $75 million for municipal revenue sharing. Also, $4.1 million was allocated for broadband expansion and rural development grants.
The Homestead Exemption will increase by $5,000, allowing Maine residents to exempt $25,000 from their property taxes without increasing the impact on local cities and towns.
Lawmakers passed and the governor signed legislation (LD 777) to establish a permanent commission on the status of racial indigenous and Maine tribal populations. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland, will provide a vehicle for the state’s efforts to understand how policy decisions affect racial and ethnic groups. It will serve as a venue for Maine to address a long history of wrongs that have led to racial inequality.
Among other highlights …
Maine lawmakers passed and the governor signed a number of bills to make prescription drugs more affordable for Maine residents, including one allowing prescription drugs to be imported from Canada (requires a federal waiver) and another to create a wholesale importation process for prescription drugs.
While other states in the nation passed laws to restrict abortions, Maine lawmakers approved several measures to reinforce reproductive rights including a bill to cover funding by the state’s healthcare programs (MaineCare) for abortions. Also, legislation was passed to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform abortions. Another measure improves access to the “day after” pill, allowing it to be distributed in vending machines.
Maine joined California, Mississippi, New York and West Virginia in requiring that all school-age children be vaccinated. Beginning in 2021, all students attending school and college in Maine must be vaccinated. Arguments citing side effects and religious beliefs were countered by health officials who pointed to an increasing number of unvaccinated children who are putting children at risk who are unable to be vaccinated due to medical reasons.
Mills set the following goals to address climate change:
- By 2050, 100% of Maine’s electricity will come from renewable sources. Greenhouse gas emissions will be 80% below 1990 levels.
- All single-use plastic shopping bags and foam food and beverage containers at grocery stores will be banned as of April 22, 2020, which is Earth Day. (Vermont passed similar legislation which was signed into law during the 2019 session.)
- Require all schools to do testing for lead contamination in school drinking water supplies.
Maine lawmakers took a big step in easing the tax burden on low-income residents by passing legislation to adjust the tax code. Mills signed LD 1671, which will benefit approximately 100,000 Maine households by more than doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The bill also closes a loophole in the Maine Capital Investment Credit, which to date, has provided big multistate corporations with greater benefits than Maine businesses that operate only in Maine.
The governor signed a net neutrality law, saying she is hopeful that such a law will “protect a free and open internet for Maine residents.”
Lawmakers passed a bill to allow sports betting, but Mills put a hold on the bill expressing concerns about expanding gambling in the state. With the Legislature adjourned, the bill will have to be reconsidered when lawmakers reconvene in January 2020.
Mills is seeking legislative approval for a $238 million bonding package. The biggest bond is $105 million for transportation including road and bridge repairs, expansion of broadband. The second largest bond is $65 million for environmental protection with $30 million going to the Land for Maine’s Future Program. An additional $20 million is slated for cleaning up hazardous-waste sites. Among other bonds, $19 million is for workforce development, $4 million for the Maine Community College System to support two mobile welding labs to train prospective welders, $5 million to support career technical centers and $5 million in childcare options for working Mainers.
Carolyn Morwick directs government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures. Visit here for summaries of the legislative sessions in other New England states.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
Addition, July 10, 2019: The enacted FY 20-21 state budget for the University of Maine System (UMS) includes a 3.35% increase to current base funding the first year of the budget (FY20) that carries into the second year (FY21), resulting in an additional $12.9 million over the biennium, as well as targeted investments to expand early college ($2 million over the biennium) and advance adult degree completion ($3 million over the biennium). Like the UMS, the Maine Community College System (MCCS) and Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) also received a 3.35% increase in FY20 and flat funding in FY21, amounting to $4.3 million in new money over the biennium for MCCS and $603,391 for MMA.