Guest column

Bipartisan budget will result in progress for all Maine families

By Erin Herbig | Jul 20, 2017

Sometimes it is difficult to understand how what happens in Augusta affects families here at home. Still, the decisions that were made during this year's legislative session will impact Waldo County in many ways.

In the early hours of July 4, the Legislature passed the 2017-2019 biennial budget which was then signed by the governor, ending the state shutdown.

I fought very hard to prevent the shutdown and while this budget isn’t everything I hoped for, I am relieved we were able to work together to reopen Maine for business and get state workers back to their jobs and their families as quickly as we could.

This budget, which will guide Maine State spending for the next two years, includes priorities of every member of the Legislature, reflecting all political parties and all regions of our state.

Throughout this year, I’ve told you all I would be focused on crafting a budget that prioritizes job growth, reduces property taxes, revitalizes rural communities and improves education. I also promised you that I would always fight to increase opportunities for our children, seniors and people with disabilities.

While this was certainly a complicated and difficult process, as I look back at this budget, it absolutely honors those important promises. It was essential that the budget we passed make smart investments in Maine communities and working families to create better opportunities for everyone across our state.

This budget will improve education by increasing direct classroom funding by $162 million; the largest increase in state education funding in our state’s history. This significant investment in public education will be felt in every school district across our state and by every child it benefits. Here in Waldo County, that includes an additional $3,165,705 in new education funding from the state.

In addition to improving education funding, another one of my major goals was reducing property taxes. In this budget we protect an expansion of the Homestead Exemption and make sure it applies to everyone, including our seniors. The excessive burden of property taxes is something that I hear about on a daily basis from folks across our county and I am proud to have delivered this long overdue property tax relief to Waldo County families.

This budget also finally provides desperately needed funding for our seniors and Mainers with disabilities. As you may have seen, I spent much of this session working to build bipartisan support for a bill I sponsored to restore adequate funding for workers who take care of adults with intellectual disabilities for the first time in a decade. It was hard work but I couldn’t be more proud that now, the state will no longer be in the business of deciding which of our loved ones get care.

This investment will reward over 12,000 deserving Mainers for the good work they do in caring for adults with intellectual disabilities and prevent the collapse of this incredibly vital industry. It also prevents the closure of dozens of group homes across the state.

The biennial budget addresses all of these priorities without spending beyond our means or creating any new or increased taxes.

While some of my priorities did not receive funding in this budget, including a commuter tax credit for hard-working families and an incentive for businesses to provide onsite childcare, I will continue to fight for rural Maine and the families who live here.

That will always be a fight I will lead because I know that empowering Maine towns to turn themselves around in today's changing economy and supporting working families is key to the future success of our state.

Next session, many of the bills I have sponsored to do just that will be reconsidered by the Legislature. I hope to update you on more progress for Waldo County in the year to come.

Through my work this year as the House majority leader, I have learned that in divided government, compromise is always necessary. I know that for families in Waldo County, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican; it’s whether or not you can get the job done. In the end, we did our job and passed a bipartisan budget that will result in progress for all Maine families.

I am proud of this budget and of the benefits that will surely be felt in Waldo County. As always, I am proud to represent the communities of House District 97 and will continue to work hard for all of our families.

If you have any questions, need any additional information or if you think there is anything I need to know, please contact my office at 287-1430 or send me an email at Erin.Herbig@legislature.maine.gov. I'm always happy to hear from you.

House Majority Leader Erin Herbig is currently serving her fourth term in the Maine House of Representatives. She represents House District 97, which includes Belfast, Northport and Waldo.

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