BATH — Local activists got an inside look at Gov. Janet Mills’ first proposed budget for the State of Maine Wednesday, and some expressed frustration that it doesn’t go far enough to reverse the tax policies of her Republican predecessor.

About 20 people came to Bath City Hall Wednesday to learn about Gov. Janet Mills’ biennial budget from Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, who is the assistant majority leader in the state senate. The talk was hosted by Indivisible Sagadahoc, a local activist group.

As a member of legislative leadership, Vitelli was able to walk through the budget, pointing out the priorities of the governor and the legislature as they work their way through the $8 billion budget.

“This is a fairly conservative budget in some ways, and yet it is also expansive in that it is building on some real strong needs that were identified during the course of this campaign, which is to invest in our people, whether through education or through health care,” explained Vitelli. “Those were commitments that the governor made, and many of us supported it.”

Major initiatives in the budget include Medicaid expansion, which the governor enacted in January, as well as funding for opioid treatments, child development services, and increased reimbursement rates.

Mills’ budget also includes a minimum salary of $40,000 for teachers, funding for Pre-K, and additional funding for Maine colleges.

“This budget does make some significant increases in investment in education,” said Vitelli. “Her budget reflects her commitment to funding education.”

While the budget contains many things Maine Democrats have been pursuing for some time, such as Medicaid expansion, it also contained a few disappointments for some in attendance.

For instance, while the budget would restore some municipal revenue sharing — which former Gov. Paul LePage cut during his administration — it doesn’t fully restore it to the 5 percent threshold it was at previously. Revenue sharing was established in 1972 as a way for the state to help localities pay the costs of mandatory services – such as schools, roads, fire and police departments – since state law prohibits municipalities from levying a local sales tax.

Mark Mahnke, a member of Indivisible Sagadahoc, also criticized the budget for leaving tax cuts passed under LePage’s tenure in place. Mills has stated that she does not intend to raise taxes in this budget.

Leslie Manning, a Bath resident who is part of the Friends Committee on Maine Public Policy, also criticized Mills’ budget for not shifting the burden from the individual income tax to the corporate income tax, or engaging in substantive tax reform.

“Unfortunately in this state, we’ve been really reluctant to do comprehensive tax policy reform, which is what we need,” she said.

The budget also doesn’t increase the state’s portion of education to 55 percent in accordance with state law, a longtime goal of many Democrats.

Despite criticisms raised, most people in attendance seemed generally supportive of the direction of the new budget, at least compared to Gov. LePage’s tenure.

“I think considering where we’ve been for the last eight years, it’s a significant improvement,” said Manning.

One marked change from past budgets is the legislative leadership’s commitment to making the budget process as public and open as possible.

“The commitment this time, I will tell you, is to do this process in the open,” she said. “That’s how the process is supposed to work. It didn’t always work that way these last eight years.”

Beyond new budget priorities, Vitelli said that the atmosphere in Augusta has taken a decidedly more cooperative approach, as opposed to the more combative approach taken in the previous administration.

“It’s definitely a different feel to the place,” said Vitelli. “The conversations are happening more naturally and in a more friendly way.”

A simple change made this legislative session is that instead of having legislators divided by party in the house and senate chambers, all senators and representatives are mixed together regardless of party.

“We have our differences. There’s no question about that. We have different priorities … but I think the good news is that we’re starting from a place of comity…and goodwill,” said Vitelli.

Legislative committees continue to pore over the budget in Augusta, and they are expected to do so for another couple of months.

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