Senator Joyce Maker’s Monthly Column

The smoke is finally starting to clear following the chaos in Augusta that led to a brief government shutdown, and for many of us, summer is finally underway.
Simply put, disagreements over spending priorities for the state’s two-year budget, which needed to be signed by July 1, 2017- the beginning of the state’s fiscal year- is what led to the shutdown.
A budget agreement was finally reached in the early morning hours of July 4, and the shutdown ended. What we are left with is a spending package that will fund state government services through Fiscal Year 2019.
As always, there is a lot to like and dislike about the state budget.
But this budget presented many unique challenges. Perhaps the largest was making necessary adjustments to the enormous tax increase on small businesses and medical professionals created by the passage of Question 2 last November as a way to increase education funding.
While we can all agree on the benefit of reducing some of the education funding pressure on municipalities and property tax payers, the highest-in-the-nation income tax represented a dire threat to our economy, and one that needed to be addressed immediately.
Fortunately, Senate Republicans stood strong during budget negotiations and were able to eliminate the surtax in exchange for providing an additional $162 million for schools, which is the largest single increase in state funding for education and finally meets the 55 percent state funding obligation for our schools, as defined by law.
While this is sure to benefit many communities and property tax payers from all around the state, we also saw this investment as an opportunity to implement important education reforms to right-size school administrations, encourage collaboration between districts to combine services and better target funding to where it makes the most difference – in the classroom.
One of the many education reforms we included was a restructuring of the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) formula that is used to calculate how much school funding each district will receive based on certain parameters. We updated the formula to give more weight to economically disadvantaged schools and schools that provide services to a large number of special needs students.
Any time you alter the formula, some schools benefit more than others, but overall, Washington County benefited greatly from this change. Calais received $351,549 more in this budget than they did in the previous one. East Machias received $125,617 in additional support, Pleasant Point received $277,406 and RSU 37, which serves communities in western Washington County, received $229,974 in additional support.
If you would like to see how your school district made out, click here.
This will make a big difference for students and property tax payers alike in these communities and others all around the state.
Many of us have heard concerns from constituents that property tax rates are a growing concern for many Maine families. While local spending is decided at the municipal level, we have made every effort to try to ease the burden on local municipalities.
First, we have finally surpassed the 55 percent funding requirement set out by the voters in 2004, and we did so without raising taxes on anyone. This is significant for property tax payers because school funding makes up the lion’s share of most municipal budgets.
But this additional funding is meant to lessen the burden on municipalities, not artificially inflate spending, which is why we included language to stipulate that half of all additional education funding must go back to the municipalities to lessen the burden on landowners.
We also maintained the popular Homestead Exemption for all property owners in Maine, and have increased the exemption from $15,000 to $20,000 for the next two years.
If you would like to comment on any legislative matter, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I can be reached at senjoyce.a.maker@gmail.com, by phone at 287-1505 or on Facebook as Senator Joyce Maker.
Senator Joyce Maker was elected on November 8, 2016 to serve the constituents of District 6 in the Maine State Senate. Senate District 6 consists of all of Washington County and the municipalities and unorganized territories of Gouldsboro, Sullivan, Winter Harbor and part of the East Hancock Unorganized Territories.