This was perhaps the busiest of weeks so far in Augusta. A full calendar of five days marked by testimony, hearings, and a full day on Friday with Appropriations and Education.
Nonetheless, there was a bit of time to make some alterations to the web site - MaineDistrict59 - the place you are reading this.
Most importantly, the section labeled "News and Resources" has been reworked to provide you with more information which you might find useful in following Maine State Government. Click on the tab and explore the different links. Of particular interest, the tab regarding the legislative calendar will be very useful. Here is the direct link - News and Resources
March 9, 2017
Bill Text can be found using this link called Directory of Bills
Link to Bill Status
This week in the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, we had a chance to hear many proposed bills. In fact, it was a pretty exhausting week.
But perhaps no bill was more poignant than LD526. - A bill to increase teacher health insurance payments. Currently all retired teachers receive a payment of 45% of their health insurance costs. This means that retired teachers pay 55% of their health insurance in an out of pocket way. They do this despite the fact that they were promised an increase in the rate of payment for many years. They have in fact been kept at 45% of this promise for over ten years.
When retired teachers live on a minimal income which is also a fixed income, they face real challenges in paying for their health insurance in an out of pocket method. In fact, there were several teachers who testified that the choice to pay for insurance or buy groceries or purchase medicines is a real and present dilemma. And so many teachers do not qualify for Medicare, as they participated only in the Maine State Retirement system.
Prices go up every year. Teacher retirement benefits have not kept pace with the increase in the cost of living.
And yet, though that was important, the testimony offered on the Education Budget - in conjunction with the Appropriations Committee on Friday was amazing - yes, poignant, and even more impactful. We had been told to prepare for a long day on Friday, but I was not prepared to hear the range of testimony. People's statements ran from the academic to the personal.
But, not a single person, and there were 70 signed up by 10AM, testified in favor of the proposed education budget. Not a signle person supported the governor's proposals. And of the hundred emails I receved, not a signle one supported the proposed budget. Over and over and over again, I heard and read testimony about how the people of Maine want the state of Maine to live up to the committment of 55% funding for general edcation. This is the law, and we will need to observe the law at some point.
And it was so good to see Crystal Ward present on two days this week - giving testimony and participating in the process of state government.
After the hearings on Friday, here was the news release from the Speaker's office.
For Immediate Release
March 3, 2017
Dems: Governor’s Budget Falls Short on Education
Over 70 Mainers sign up to testify against the governor’s proposal
AUGUSTA - The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and Education Committee held a joint public hearing on Friday on portions of Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal that would impact Maine’s education system. Over seventy Mainers were signed up to testify against the proposal. The governor’s proposal ignores voter demands to fully fund public schools and fails to give Maine teachers the resources they need to prepare children to thrive.
“Yet again the governor’s budget ignores the will of Maine people by failing to fund public education and neglecting our students and teachers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, Chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “What’s worse, this time he’s ignoring the law and shortchanging our schools so he can give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in Maine.”
Using Maine’s school funding formula, the Maine Department of Education calculates how much each school district will receive in state funding each year. The governor’s budget makes significant changes to that formula, resulting in some communities receiving millions less in funding, and others receiving an increase, creating inequities for Maine students.
According to data from the Maine Department of Education, calculations show that almost 65% of Maine students live in districts that will see a decline in education funding from the state if the governor’s budget proposal is approved.
“Our state will be shaped by the investments we make in empowering our children to run the pillars of our economy, including strong businesses and communities,” said Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor. “We need to be looking at the bigger picture when we make changes to our education system, from pre-k to affordable college, and this budget doesn’t get us there.”
Next week, the Appropriations Committee will hold joint sessions with the Environment and Natural Resources, Insurance and Financial Services and Energy, Utilities and Technology Committees to continue shaping the budget.
As always, feel free to write to me and let me know your thoughts.