The Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on Sunday reached an agreement on a $8.5 billion two-year budget proposal that invests in the well-being of Maine people and, by extension, the state’s future.

The full Legislature will take up the proposal as it returns to the State House on Wednesday. Lawmakers should pass the budget so that it can immediately begin its work.

The proposal would supersede the budget passed, with Democratic votes only, in March. Since then, Maine’s revenue picture has only gotten better, allowing the state to take care of a number of its outstanding needs while still contributing to the rainy day fund.

The proposal represents a compromise between Democrats, who have a majority in the Legislature – though not the two-thirds required to pass emergency legislation – and the minority Republicans. There appears to be little hangover from March’s contentious party-line budget vote.

Included in the budget plan are a number of issues our Editorial Board has long considered priorities.

If the budget is approved, the state will for the first time fund 55 percent of K-12 education costs, a goal since 2004. That means tens of millions of dollars more for Maine schools – and for reducing the property tax burden in our communities.

Also reducing that burden in the budget are the restoration of municipal revenue sharing to its statutory level of 5 percent in the second year; an expansion of the property tax fairness credit, and an increased reimbursement to cities and towns from the Homestead Exemption Program.

The budget also provides breakfast and lunch for all students, with no strings attached. Students who now struggle to get enough food will know they’ll have at least two healthy meals a day, and that hunger won’t keep them from achieving at school.

The budget also addresses the lack of support for direct care workers by increasing wages paid through MaineCare to 125 percent of the minimum wage. If nothing else, the pandemic showed how essential these workers are. Maine families desperately need people to fill these jobs, and those workers should be valued. Raising their wages does both.

It also would extend, through MaineCare, preventative dental care to an estimated 217,000 Mainers who now have to wait for an emergency to get help. It includes $40 million for the Land for Maine’s Future conservation program, as well as funding for the discovery and mitigation land contaminated with “forever chemicals.”

The large-scale investments in the budget will make an enormous difference in people’s lives.

What’s more, a minimum of $60 million to the rainy day fund, which would then be at a record high of $328 million. Additionally, Republicans sought and achieved a “hazard payment” of around $300 for workers who meet income guidelines – further tax relief, essentially. That extra cash will certainly be welcomed by the many Mainers who have struggled in the last year.

There’s a lot to like in the budget proposal – there’s a reason it gained unanimous support in the Appropriations committee.

Now, it will need a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to pass into law immediately upon the governor’s signature. Legislators should give it those votes.


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