The Maine Legislature passes a new budget every two years. Since 1972, we have made a promise to our cities and towns that we will share a small portion of state sales and income tax revenue to help them pay for important local services such as schools, snow plows, police and the fire department.
We do this so that Maine people can get the services they count on without having to experience painful property tax hikes.
It’s a partnership between the state and local governments that has worked well since it was signed into law more than 40 years ago.
Last year, lawmakers from both parties rejected a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage that would have ended this revenue sharing partnership along with other programs, shifting a burden of roughly $400 million onto cities and towns. This would have been devastating for property taxpayers.
Instead, we passed a bipartisan budget over the governor’s veto that prevented many, but not all, of the proposed cuts to our communities from going into effect. Included in that budget was a pledge to come up with $40 million more in state revenue and send that money back to property taxpayers and local communities where it belongs.
This is money we promised our cities and towns, and we owe it to all Maine property taxpayers to be true to our word. End of story.
I spent nine years on the Vassalboro School Board and am starting my sixth year on the Vassalboro Budget Committee. I know that the people in my town can’t afford to have the rug pulled out from under them — especially people living on low or fixed incomes.
Plus, communities across Maine are already planning their budgets and are counting on the Legislature to keep its promises. More than half of Maine towns have to decide what their budgets are going to look like before the Legislature adjourns in April. The others will have maybe a month or two after that.
That’s not a lot of time, so the faster we ensure that $40 million is available to our local communities the better.
Our communities already have had to cut right to the bone. They need that $40 million to prevent previously unthinkable decisions such as whether to keep street lights, a police department or a favorite teacher. And when cuts are no longer possible, they need that money to keep property taxes in check.
I’ve had the chance to speak with many of my colleagues, Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, and I know that people want to do the right thing and keep our commitment.
Protecting revenue sharing is a big deal right now in Augusta. I am working hard to convince as many of my colleagues as possible that we need to start seeing things from the local perspective and finally acknowledge that enough is enough.
That’s where Maine residents come in. Those who want the Legislature to come through for our towns and for property taxpayers should contact their local legislators and let them know. The outcome will have real effects on people’s lives and family budgets.
Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, is serving her first term in the Maine House and represents Vassalboro, Windsor and part of Augusta. She is a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.