Proposed budget - a problem for property tax payers
Rep. Jessica Fay
Every two years, the Legislature is tasked with creating a budget to direct state spending. The governor proposes a budget as a starting point and then the Legislature continues to shape it until it works for our state and the people of Maine.
This year we have a long way to go from that starting point. As a representative, I am determined to protect property tax relief. By far, the tax I hear the most concern and worry about is the property tax; but the governor’s proposed budget takes big steps in the wrong direction toward fixing the problem.
The proposed budget eliminates the Homestead Exemption for those less than 65 years of age. This program takes $20,000 off the valuation of a Maine resident’s primary home, and is one of the most popular and effective property tax relief programs. The Homestead Exemption was important enough that the Legislature felt it was worthwhile to double it in the last budget. It saves homeowners in Raymond, Casco and Poland around $270 per year, but if this budget is passed as it is, it would leave out young families and others.
The budget also makes serious cuts to state aid to education, shifting even more expenses on to local property tax payers. Changes proposed to the school funding formula will lower what the state will cover per student, and it would shift all administrative costs directly to the school districts. This is on top of shifting teacher retirement costs on to local school districts, in the last budget.
The budget also proposes to spend only a bare minimum on Revenue Sharing, which sends a portion of state income and sales tax money back to our cities and towns - which can help to keep property taxes from rising so quickly.
When put together all these proposals will result in property tax increases and cuts to our schools. It could even affect services like police, fire and roads.
None of this is necessary. It’s true that we sometimes need to trim and sacrifice when times are hard. That isn’t the case right now. Maine’s balance sheet is in good shape. We had a $30 million surplus last year, and revenues are projected to increase in the future. Last week we even set $35 million aside in the supplemental budget for the Rainy Day Fund. There is no crisis driving these cuts and cost shifts.
These shortsighted cuts are being proposed to pay for income tax cuts for the wealthiest income Mainers. Putting additional costs on some property taxpayers, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet, to benefit a select few just isn’t fair.
As the budget goes through the long process of compromise and reworking over the next few months, my colleagues and I will be working hard to build a fair budget that keeps rising property taxes down and puts more money in the pockets of Mainers.
Fay is serving her first term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Casco, part of Poland and part of Raymond. She serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.