Crafting a strong, bipartisan budget

By Sen. Erin Herbig | Jul 04, 2019
Gov. Janet Mills signs LD 67, “An Act To Ensure Access to Justice for Victims of Sexual Assault,” into law. Sen. Erin Herbig, far right, sponsored the bill.

After working all through the night, the Legislature adjourned June 20 around 6 a.m. Over the past six months we considered more than 2,000 bills, making significant progress on the challenges we face. Nowhere is our progress more apparent than in the biennial budget that passed with bipartisan majorities in both the Maine House and Maine Senate. This budget represents a big step forward for Maine, not only because of what’s in it, but also in how we passed it.

Creating a strong, responsible budget — and getting bipartisan support — is an arduous task. All spring and into the summer, the Appropriations Committee considered the budget line-by-line. In total, they took 1,154 votes on different budget lines. Only eight votes were divided; the other 1,146 were unanimous. That marks a dramatic improvement over the divisiveness we’ve seen in recent years. Hats off to the committee members for their incredibly hard work.

The new budget prioritizes property tax relief, health care, workforce development and access to reliable, high-speed internet — without raising taxes. In fact, it includes $75 million in property tax relief. It also helps guarantee access to health care by sustainably funding the voter-approved expansion of MaineCare. The budget includes funding for workforce training, helping fill today’s jobs and grow local economies. And it allocates $4 million to expand access to reliable, high-speed internet.

One of my top priorities this session was to provide more support to victims and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Organizations like the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence are fighting for victims and survivors every single day.

To support their work, I successfully sponsored LD 1171, “An Act To Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence and To Support Survivors,” which will increase funding for sexual assault and domestic violence services. These crucial services help people get out of dangerous environments, access hospitals and doctors’ exams, navigate the court process and rebuild their lives. This is the first funding increase in almost 20 years.

I also successfully sponsored LD 67, “An Act To Ensure Access to Justice for Victims of Sexual Assault,” which extends the current statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes. Many victims of sexual assault wait to report because they worry that no one will believe them or that coming forward could negatively impact their careers, safety or standing in the community. Maine had one of the shortest statutes of limitations in the country — just eight years. Now it’s 20 years.

The budget funded two other bills this session that constituents suggested to me. LD 75, “An Act To Protect Earned Pay,” protects Maine workers’ vacation pay. Before I passed this law, if you were laid off, you could lose vacation time you had accrued. And LD 1718, “An Act To Exempt Purchases by Pet Food Pantries from Sales Tax,” supports the Waldo County Pet Food Pantry and other pet food pantries across the state. Now that our pet food pantry will qualify for a sales tax exemption, it will be able to purchase more pet food and help more people in need, including veterans and seniors.

Over the next two years, the budget will improve the lives of Maine people. It will bring down property taxes and ensure that more people have access to health care, job training and reliable, high-speed internet. If you have any questions about the budget or concerns on any other issue, please contact me at Erin.Herbig@legislature.maine.gov or (207) 287-1515.

Sen. Herbig is serving her first term in the Maine Senate, representing the 26 towns of Waldo County. She lives in Belfast.

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