Approximately 30 people gathered Wednesday night for a public forum sponsored by the UMaine Democrats, featuring Maine Sen. Emily Cain and Rep. Ryan Tipping-Spitz.
The topic of discussion was Maine’s biennial general fund budget, proposed by Gov. Paul LePage, for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years.
“A budget is a moral document. It is about how we as a society set our priorities,” Tipping-Spitz told the forum.
Cain distributed a document explaining that 86 percent of tax revenues received by the state’s general fund comes from individual and corporate income taxes and sales tax. According to Tipping-Spitz, each of these components is “highly sensitive to the ups and downs of Maine’s economy.” This delicate tax balance, combined with Maine’s economy being the only one in New England to shrink in 2011 and revenues falling short of projections, produced the need for a supplementary budget.
Cain echoed Tipping-Spitz, saying the supplemental budget is about balancing the books for the end of the current fiscal year, and the upcoming biennial budget is about making “an ultimate statement of priorities.”
“It’s going to require a lot of time and a lot of big ideas… and that’s an opportunity,” she added, explaining that she prefers to “look for a positive side” in the state’s budget woes.
Questions from the audience spurred additional discussion on topics ranging from the potential federal sequestration, education spending, funding for social workers and the East-West Highway proposal.
Cain and Tipping-Spitz also took a short time to outline the bills they intend to sponsor during the 126th Legislature.
Cain said she is either sponsoring or co-sponsoring over 20 bills that will support research and development funding and facilities upgrades for the University of Maine System; low-cost student loans; strengthening Maine’s science, technology, engineering and math programs; and domestic violence solutions.
Tipping-Spitz told the forum his bills are designed with the intent to fix tax codes for groups thatfundraise for community institutions, such as the Friends of the Orono Public Library and expand the state’s oil spill fund. He is also working on a resolution to oppose U.S. Supreme Court 2010 decision “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.”
UMaine Dems Chair Noel Madore said this forum was the second in the group’s “Augusta to Orono” series, which is aimed at “bringing legislators and candidates to campus to give students a way to be aware of what is going on.”
Cain said this appearance was the first of three for her — on Saturday, she hosted similar budgetary forums in Old Town and Lincoln. According to Cain, the on-campus event was critical for reaching out to students.
“The No. 1 thing is that we want to hear from students,” Cain said, reiterating that the on-campus event was critical for reaching out to students. “A lot is going on that affects them.”