Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget has been released for only a matter of days and already we are hearing the usual moans from those opposed to change. From Democrats in the state legislature to municipal money grabbers around the state, the opposition to progress is well underway.
While no budget is perfect, the biennial budget released last Friday has many reasons to earn the support of Maine taxpayers. Here’s why:
Repealing the General Assistance Program – For far too long this well-meaning program has been allowed to grow into a required albatross on both state and municipal budgets. It has also become an attractive program for abusers of Maine’s already out of control welfare system. While those who oppose repealing GA will try to make the claim that this will unduly place a burden on property tax payers, the reality is that the state is releasing municipalities from mandated obligations. Free from the shackles of the state, local communities will be in control of their own budgets and will be able to self-determine how and to whom their dollars are best spent. Ultimately, the move to repeal GA will not only reduce municipal spending, it also shreds $12 million from the state budget.
Income tax reduction – While many of us would like to see the income tax repealed altogether and applaud Gov. LePage for having both the vision and guts to push for these reforms in his previous budget proposals, a two-year plan to create a flat income tax rate of 2.75 percent that is paid by all should be an achievable step towards that goal, creating a level playing field for all through its application. While the plan does include the insidious 3 percent surtax that fleeced voters in Maine last November, the surtax is applied to all Mainers while still reducing the overall tax burden on individuals and families.
School administration – Last fall, the people who voted to pass Question 2 sent a clear message that they wanted school funding to be spent in the classroom. With this budget, it’s time for municipalities to put their money where their mouth is. A change in the school funding formula will repeal the component of the EPS model that calculates each school system’s appropriate cost of “system administration,” thereby eliminating any state subsidy for costs associated with the superintendent’s office. At the same time that the state eliminates this funding, authority is granted for communities to hire a single superintendent through inter-local agreements. If local control is desired and communities want more dollars directed to the classroom rather than administration, this is a step in the right direction.
A new school funding model with a single, statewide teachers’ contract – The farther north you go in Maine, the greater the disparity between various teacher pay contracts become. Currently, individual school districts spend millions of dollars negotiating hundreds of teachers’ contracts. A new funding model coupled with a statewide teachers’ contract would not only put those millions back into the classroom, but also allow good teachers to remain in the districts of their choice rather than flood only to certain areas of the state based on pay.
Change to lifetime TANF benefits – LePage’s budget changes the lifetime cap on TANF benefits from 60 to 36 months. Considering that 36 months is three years, this one speaks for itself. Other changes include a ban on benefits for those convicted of a drug felony, ensuring that state dollars are targeting those Mainers who need it the most.
Hopefully legislators in Augusta will give serious consideration to the proposals put forward by the governor in this biennial budget. A holistic presentation of incremental progress towards tax relief and fiscal responsibility has been presented here, and that is the lens through which it should be viewed.