By Senator Russell Black
AUGUSTA – One of the Maine Legislature’s main topics this session was what to do with a projected $1.22 billion budget surplus. Because our state budget is a shared responsibility between Maine’s governor and the Legislature, Gov. Janet Mills submitted a supplemental budget that returns a portion of that surplus in the form of $850 payments. The Legislature agreed and passed the measure.
With these payments set to start arriving next month, I’ve fielded quite a few questions from constituents about what these payments are, why they exist and how to get them if you’re qualified. Therefore, I’ve prepared a few answers to some of the most common questions.
What is this surplus, and why does it even exist?
Great question! It starts with our State Constitution, which requires a balanced budget where proposed expenditures cannot normally exceed estimated available funds.
The state generates revenue primarily through our ability to tax as well as from other income. We then create a budget package for two-year cycles, called a biennium, which typically requires a little bit of guesswork at the forefront of the process. When real data flows in during the cycle, we update our forecasts to see if we’re collecting too little or too much revenue, the latter being what’s happening now. We then have to decide what to do with it.
When we began seeing these surpluses last year, Maine Republicans began our “Give it Back” initiative – the surpluses clearly show that Maine has been overtaxing our residents, and we’d rather give it back to taxpayers instead of expanding state government.
Do I or my family qualify?
About 858,000 Mainers will qualify for these payments and it’s based on several factors. First, you have to be a full-time Maine resident and cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return. Second, it’s based on your federal adjusted gross income (AGI) and filing status.
The qualifying AGI limits are $100,000 for taxpayers filing as single or married filing separately; $150,000 if you file as head of household; and $200,000 for couples filing jointly.
How do I claim it?
If you’ve already filed your Maine individual tax return by the filing deadline of April 19, 2022, or filed an extension and will do so by the extension deadline of Oct. 17, 2022, you won’t have to do anything.
What if I normally don’t have to file a return?
We’ve been getting this question quite a bit, especially from seniors who often fall below the filing income limits due to excluded social security or retirement income and those on disability. The short answer is the payment is based entirely upon the filing of a Maine individual tax return, so you will need to file one even if you typically don’t. The deadline to file is Oct. 31, 2022.
I haven’t done taxes in years, so where do I go?
There are several resources available, including commercial tax preparers and those offering free assistance like CA$H Maine. For more information or to seek additional resources, you can dial 2-1-1 or visit 211Maine.org.
Isn’t this adding to the inflation problem?
The simple answer is no. Here’s why:
You’ve already incurred higher costs throughout the winter for fuel oil, gasoline, electricity and even food. In some cases, those bills may still be unpaid or you may have paid with a credit card just to get by. This payment helps cover that and doesn’t impact inflation since the goods and services were already received.
In addition, this isn’t “newly-printed” money. It’s forecasted to be or has already been collected as tax revenue, so the payment is a return of your tax dollars that have already been earned by you and withheld and sent to the State.
If you still need help determining whether you qualify and what you need to do to receive your relief check, you can access a guide here on our website.
Senator Russell Black is in his second term in the Maine Senate and represents District 17. He is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committees.