AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s budget-writing committee voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to support a nearly $8 billion budget that funds Medicaid expansion, more school spending and property tax relief without increasing taxes.

The 11-2 vote by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee comes after about four months of deliberations based largely on a proposal offered by Gov. Janet Mills in February. The two-year budget is 11 percent higher than the current spending plan, and its growth is supported largely by a steadily growing economy, which generates increased tax revenue for the state.

The spending package, which totals $7.98 billion, includes $125 million in funding for a voter-approved expansion of MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program; $75 million in new property tax relief funds; and an additional $112 million for public schools. The boost in public school funding brings the state’s share of education funding to just over 50 percent of total costs, well below the voter mandated 55 percent, a target the lawmakers have never met.

The $125 million in state funds for the Medicaid expansion is expected to draw down an additional $500 million in federal money.

The budget package also includes hundreds of smaller initiatives, such as funds to add 62 new workers to the Department of Health and Human Services child protective agency, a response to child deaths and subsequent legislative investigations that determined the system was overwhelmed and dysfunctional.

Smaller lines in the budget include a $1.5 million increase in state funding for the Meals on Wheels program, which is expected to expand the meal services to 300 more people. The package also puts $18 million into the state’s “rainy day fund” savings account and sets aside another $29 million to guard against unexpected costs from the Medicaid expansion.


Mills praised the committee vote, saying it represented a compromise that was forward-looking.

“As is the case with all compromises and good governance, no one got everything they wanted, but I applaud both Democrats and Republicans for working together to reach an agreement that makes critical investments in Maine’s future over the next two years,” Mill said in a prepared statement.

The legislation still needs to secure the support of two-thirds of the Legislature, which may prove challenging as Republican opponents to the measure said they were “very united” in their commitment to holding the line on spending.

The Maine Constitution requires a balanced budget to be passed in order for state government to remain open. The Legislature has until June 30 to get the two-thirds support needed. Key and longtime Republican leaders on the committee, including Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a former state finance commissioner, are backing the compromise budget bill.

But Republican hardliners may be able to hold out the votes needed to get the measure over the finish line. In all, 24 of the 35 state senators and 101 of the 151 members of the House need to back the bill for it to become law.

Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, was one of the two committee members to oppose the bill. She proposed a pared-down version of the bill that would set spending at just over $7.5 billion and with fewer of Mills’ proposals included.


“History tells us we are past due for a recession,” Arata said.

She later voiced the concern of other Republicans that the next state budget also would likely include state funding for covering abortion services for eligible Medicaid recipients.

Taxpayer-funded abortion has been a key sticking point for conservatives, but on Wednesday the House voted 82-59 on another bill requiring private health insurance companies, as well as MaineCare, to cover abortion services. The bill already had been approved in the Senate.

Arata said the state was going to be paying for an “elective abortion” when there were still hundreds of elderly and disabled on waiting lists for health care and mental health services.

“They are not getting the care they need,” Arata said. “We have bigger problems than funding abortions with taxpayer money.”

While the Department of Health and Human Services has said the cost of abortion services would be covered under its existing funds, Republicans have made a point of noting those are still taxpayer funds.


The budget bill passed by the committee Wednesday also includes $75 million in new property tax relief programs, including an expansion of the state’s popular homestead exemption. The bill also increases the amount of sales and income tax revenue the state shares with cities and towns.

Democratic leaders on the committee praised Wednesday’s vote, saying it was the result of weeks of work and represented a bipartisan compromise that works to rebuild state government.

“We’ve secured strong bipartisan support on a budget that prioritizes property tax relief of $75 million and makes significant investments in health care, education and our workforce,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the Senate chair of the committee. “I’m grateful that my colleagues and I on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee could restore the longstanding tradition of bipartisanship to the budget process.”

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the committee, said the panel used Mills’ proposal as a “road map,” but on several occasions deviated from it, at times cutting 50 percent or more from Mills’ proposals.

Gattine said he was pleased with the large bipartisan vote, and he singled out several key pieces of the budget – especially the increases to property tax relief programs and to revenue sharing with cities and towns.

“The budget that the Appropriations Committee agreed to is sustainable, responsible, and most importantly, addresses the needs of Mainers that have gone unmet for far too long,” Gattine said. “I’m more than confident that the budget we’ve produced will earn the support of Democrats, Republicans and independents in the Legislature.”

The budget bill faces additional votes in the both the House and the Senate.

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