Can you believe it’s already 2020? It feels like the past decade has flown by! As we collectively charge into the 2020s, I wanted to briefly reflect on the past year, and look forward to opportunities in the new year:

When I began serving in the Maine Senate last year, I was assigned to serve on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. This is a big assignment, as that committee is tasked with crafting the state’s two-year budget. We are charged with balancing many competing priorities, deciding what gets funded and what doesn’t, so that we can tackle our biggest challenges while staying within our means.

One area that most members of the committee agreed we needed to prioritize was property tax relief, especially for Maine seniors. In order to trim the state budget, the previous administration cut revenue sharing payments intended to help towns and cities cover essential programs and services. This move unfairly shifted the burden of funding local programs and services almost entirely to property taxpayers, many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes, just trying to stay in the homes they’ve lived in their whole lives.

Passing the buck in this manner is unsustainable and unfair, so we took action last year to begin restoring revenue sharing to its original level. We also beefed up the Homestead Exemption program to allow homeowners to take up to $25,000 off the value of their home for the purpose of calculating property taxes, and provided a one-time $100 rebate for those who qualify. Look for that check in the mail in the coming weeks.

Finally, we expanded eligibility for a program called the Property Tax Fairness Credit, which provides a refundable income tax credit to qualifying homeowners and renters based on the amount of property taxes or rent a person has paid. Seniors can get up to $1,200 back, and everyone else can get up to $750. To take advantage of the credit, you should fill out the schedule PTFC form when you file your income taxes. Speak with your tax preparer or call Maine Revenue Services at (207) 626-8475 to learn more.

Passing a comprehensive property tax relief package was definitely a highlight of 2019. Looking forward, I’m hoping in 2020 we will be able to build on that success. I’m also hoping that we can take action to address an issue that has become an increasing concern in recent years: prevention and cessation of nicotine use.

At one point, Maine had a very successful smoking prevention and cessation program. We were one of 46 states that settled a lawsuit with big tobacco, in exchange for annual payments. These payments, about $50 million per year, go into the Fund for A Healthy Maine. The Legislature initially directed that the funds be spent on programs to prevent chronic disease, promote good health, lower health costs, and give Maine children and adults every opportunity to live healthy, productive lives.

Much of the funding went to smoking prevention and cessation programs aimed at kids and teens, with very positive results: Maine’s teen smoking rate was cut in half from 1999 to 2009. However, over time, the fund has become an attractive option for lawmakers and administrations looking to pay for other programs that don’t relate to its original purpose. As a result, funding dedicated to public health programs, including smoking prevention and cessation, has fallen. And now, 20 years after the fund’s establishment in Maine, we have seen a spike in teen nicotine use, driven by widespread use of vaping products. I am hoping that in 2020, we can reverse this alarming trend, by putting the Fund for a Healthy Maine into a trust, to be used solely for its designated public health purpose.

As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to contact my office at (207) 287-1515 or send me an email at [email protected] It’s an honor to serve as state senator for Scarborough.

State Sen. Linda Sanborn represents District 30, which includes Gorham, part of Buxton, and part of Scarborough. She previously served in the Maine House of Representatives, and prior to serving in the Legislature, was a family physician in Gorham for 25 years.

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