The most important thing that came out of the legislative meeting held last Saturday with Senator Bill Diamond, and representatives Mark Bryant and Patrick Corey is nothing is set in stone when it comes to Governor Paul LePage’s budget.
The informational meeting held at the town hall was supposed to focus on the budget, but became the chance for constituents to talk to their legislators face to face about many issues on their minds.
“We don’t feel it’s good to be partisan when we are doing things for the town,” said Diamond. “This is the most controversial budget in the years I’ve been up there.”
Some of the big issues at this point are the loss of revenue sharing which will affect Windham and the town budget. Revenue sharing was created to provide property tax relief, said Windham town manager Tony Plante. In 2017, this would mean the loss of $.50 on the local tax rate. “That means a reduction of services or passed on directly to the taxpayers,” he added.
The budget gets rid of the Homestead Exemption for those under 65 years old. The exemption is doubled to $20,000 for those 65 years old and over.
“It depends on your personal situation as to what happens for you,” said Plante, when asked what these changes mean for the middle class.
Other changes will be not eliminating the Maine income tax, but will reduce the rate from 7.95 percent to 5.75 percent by 2019. The sales tax would stay at the current rate of 5.5 percent and will increase to 6.5 percent in 2016. The service-provider tax would increase from 5 percent to 6 percent in 2016. The meals and lodging tax would be decoupled. The lodging tax would remain at 8 percent. Meals and liquor would decrease from 8 percent to 6.5 percent.
There was some talk about the correctional issue taking place after Sheriff Kevin Joyce said that the Cumberland County jail will be out of money by the end of February. As far as the budget goes, it would fund seven new Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agent positions as well as four new assistant attorney generals and four new district court judge positions, all of which deal with drug related crimes. It would also fund 22 new assistant district attorney positions.
Twenty-two forest ranger positions would be eliminated and nine new natural resource law enforcement officers will be brought on.
Bonnie Titcomb-Lewis from Raymond spoke about substance abuse and detriment to cutting back on Methadone treatments.
Other topics discussed were the Center for Civic Education, which is fundraising for a national trip. They discussed the damage to Babb’s Bridge, which is the state’s responsibility to get the bridge serviceable. It is up to the towns to preserve the historic value. There was also talk about the creation of a fourth casino and racino in Southern Maine.
For more information on the budget, visit http://www.maine.gov/budget/budgetinfo/. To speak to the local legislators call, Diamond at 892-8941, Bryant at 892-6591 and Corey at 749-1336.