I believe that Maine has a bright future. A Maine where jobs are homegrown in every community across our state. A Maine where my children and yours can choose to stay and raise their own families.

Mainers, resourceful and resilient, possess a unique blend of work ethic, Yankee ingenuity and perseverance. We know that this state’s best assets — our people, our natural resources, our quality of life and place — are exactly what will move our economy forward.

As speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, I carry this confidence in our future with every decision I face. And it is at the heart of the Opportunity Agenda, the alternative budget proposal released by Democrats in the Legislature.

There has never been a more critical time to turn challenge into opportunity. The budget proposed from the executive branch this January fails to address the major challenges facing too many of us. It is not reflective of our state, our people or our current fiscal outlook.

We can do better. We deserve better. That’s why we built the Opportunity Agenda instead.

A strong and thriving economy is the key to prosperity for every Mainer. The path to its creation is clear. First, invest in the foundations of our communities, in excellent schools, good roads, lower property taxes and quality healthcare. By bolstering Maine’s foundation, our people and our economy can thrive.

Then we must go further. Our plan expands successful workforce development programs to fill the high-skill jobs that Maine businesses have today. We’ve outlined strategies to fortify the ecosystem of our small business economy right now. Proven strategies like research and development and increased seed funding to strengthen, spread and scale Maine-grown businesses.

Our budget proposal for this biennium prioritizes the high-speed internet connections to the world necessary in order to improve our economic prospects. Without this digital infrastructure, we know Maine companies will not be able to compete, new companies will not relocate, and talented young people will leave.

By any measure, Maine is at a crossroads, with the choices we make today determining our future. Our Opportunity Agenda works within existing resources and invests in Maine, without raising additional taxes. Here’s how:

• We provide the largest property tax relief effort in Maine history. Our plan directly cuts property taxes by $83 million for Maine residents by increasing the Homestead Exemption and Property Tax Fairness Credit. We fulfill our promise to Maine people and our towns and cities by restoring revenue sharing and fully funding education, making sure that local government can meet their communities’ needs without raising taxes.

• Our plan tackles Maine’s workforce shortage head on, making sure that Mainers have the tools and technical training necessary to fill the good-paying jobs of today and tomorrow. By partnering with our community colleges, we can expand onsite training programs that provide businesses with the skilled employees they need. Finally, we scale successful programs from Maine Technology Institute and Maine Venture Fund, while recognizing that this investment must be deliberate and consistent into the future.

• We believe that every kid, regardless of their zip code, deserves an excellent education that prepares them for success in today’s world. Every new dollar goes directly into the classrooms for our teachers and our students. We expand access to early childhood development programs and affordable post-secondary options, including universities, community colleges, vocational schools and apprenticeship programs. And we finally address the crushing burden of student debt with a plan for loan forgiveness and lower interest rates.

• All Mainers should be provided the opportunity to succeed in our great state, from our youngest to our eldest. Our plan lifts children out of poverty, giving adults the tools to find family-supporting jobs while accessing the childcare needed to keep their kids safe. It attracts more caregivers to take care of our seniors as they age. And unlike the current proposal from the administration, we prioritize funding treatment for those struggling with opioid addiction.

I hope you take the time to visit www.opportunityagendamaine.com to see the full details of our proposal. The problems we need to solve are bigger than this budget, bigger than this Legislature, and bigger than the current administration. It will take all of working together to position us for the future we deserve.

Democrats have heard from Mainers across the state and we commit to being the voice of the people in this budget debate. We pledge to face our challenges and turn them into opportunities.

The choice is clear. Let’s choose to invest in Maine’s future together.

Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.

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