Governor Janet Mills unveiled her Administration’s budget proposal for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024-2025 biennium. The proposal builds on her last budget by continuing her free community college initiative for another two years, expanding pre-K, building more housing, and strengthening Maine’s health care system, including investing in behavioral health, services for older Mainers and people with disabilities, and child welfare. The proposal also makes investment in infrastructure to unlock vast new sources of Federal funding to fix Maine’s multimodal transportation system.
The proposed budget is $900 million more than the current state budget, in part because it covers the costs of initiatives approved by the Legislature and raises for state workers. The two-year plan will be a centerpiece of legislative debate in 2023. It comes during a time of tension in Augusta. Mills already struggled to pass a $473 million heating aid plan. Democrats could enact the budget on a straight party-line vote, just as they did two years ago, but they would have to do so by April. So far, Democratic leaders have given no indication that they intend to do that and it’s possible that they’ll seek their own modifications to the spending plan in the coming months.
Highlights of Governor Mills’ Budget Proposal Include:
Strengthening Education, from Child Care and Pre-K to Higher Ed:
- Maintaining 55 Percent Education Funding: $101 million to continue meeting the State’s obligation to pay 55 percent of local education costs.
- Funding Free School Meals: $58 million to fully fund universal free meals for students in public schools and for publicly funded students in approved private schools.
- Expanding Pre-K: $10.5 million to make pre-kindergarten more available and more accessible across Maine.
- Strengthening Child Care: $7.8 million to fully fund the salary supplements for child care workers enacted in the FY 2022 supplemental budget.
- Continuing Free Community College: $15 million to continue providing up to two years of free community college for all students from the high school graduating classes of 2024 and 2025.
- Supporting Higher Education: $41 million to support a 4.5 increase for Maine’s public higher education institutions, including the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System, and Maine Maritime Academy.
- Improving Higher Education Affordability: $10 million to increase the Maine State Grant Program’s maximum award from $2,500 to $3,000
Improving the Health of Maine People:
- Investing in Behavioral Health: $237 million in state ($94 million) and federal funds to support mental health and substance use disorder services, including $166 million to increase payment rates to providers as a result of MaineCare’s nationally recognized new rate reform process.
- Strengthening Care for Older Mainers: $169 million in state ($78 million) and federal funds to expand and improve services to help older Mainers age well and safely in their homes and communities, including support for home-delivered meals and programs that reduce abuse, neglect and exploitation. Of.
- Supporting People with Disabilities: $84 million in state ($27 million) and federal funds to improve access to services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including $34 million to ensure that there is no wait for MaineCare Section 29 services and $3 million to fully fund serving additional people through Section 21 on an emergency basis.
- Improving the Child Welfare System: Nearly $15 million for foster care and adoption assistance and funding to support increased reimbursement rates to foster families and services that help caregivers of young children to build skills to respond to children’s social and emotional needs.
- Bolstering Maine Hospitals: An additional $25 million in the supplemental budget in state ($6 million) and federal funds to support hospitals’ recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and $23 million in state ($6 million) and federal funds as an initial investment in rate reform for hospitals in the biennial budget.
- Expanding Health Care Workforce: $4 million to continue providing student loan repayment assistance to health care professionals in medicine, dentistry, behavioral health, and nursing education through the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME).
- Extending Small Business Health Insurance Relief: $16 million in the supplemental budget to continue from April to December the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan program that provides monthly payments of $50 per worker (more for families) to sustain affordable health insurance
Building Maine’s Infrastructure, From Housing to Roads and Bridges and More:
- Building Workforce Housing: $30 million to expand affordable rental housing options for workers and their families through equal funding to the Rural Affordable Rental Housing Program and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program.
- Continued Robust Investment in Transportation: $400 million for the Maine Department of Transportation to repair Maine’s multimodal infrastructure system, potentially matching up to $1 billion in federal funds under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
- Pay Off Hospital Bond: Utilizes $26.8 million from the Liquor Operation Revenue Fund to pay off in advance the outstanding debt for the hospital bond and transitions future revenues to the Highway Fund.
- Upgrading National Guard Facilities: $14.3 million to leverage an estimated $18.2 million in Federal funding for National Guard facility repairs and renovations
Providing Property Tax Relief and Other Support:
- Maintaining 5 Percent Revenue Sharing: Maintains 5 percent Municipal Revenue Sharing, continuing to meet the State’s obligation to Maine municipalities and mitigating property taxes increases.
- Enhancing Property Tax Relief: Nearly $17 million to increase by three percent State reimbursement to municipalities under the Homestead Exemption, as passed by the Legislature.
- Funding Property Tax Freeze Law: $46 million to fund the law, passed by the Legislature, that stabilizes property taxes for individuals 65 years of age or older who have owned a homestead for at least 10 years.
- Supporting Retirees: $6.6 million in the supplemental budget for a one-time payment equivalent to a one percent cost-of-living-adjustment for Maine State Retirees, with an average benefit of $175 for approximately 37,600 state sponsored plan retirees.
Protecting Maine’s Environment:
- Combating Climate Change: $3 million for climate-focused grants, technical assistance, and incentive programs to help Maine communities plan for climate change, reduce carbon emissions, transition to clean energy, and increase their resilience to the effects of climate change through the Governor’s Community Resilience Partnership under Maine’s climate action plan, Maine Won’t Wait.
- Fighting PFAS: Approximately $6 million in state and federal funds across multiple departments to detect and mitigate the impact of PFAS, including sampling and testing for PFAS contamination in wildlife.