Budget Negotiations Run Hot and Cold
Late last Friday evening, the Appropriations Committee sat around the horseshoe table and produced a majority and a minority budget report. Come Monday morning, word in the hallways was that leadership and committee members had worked through the weekend and that a unanimous budget was on the brink of being produced. By Monday night, those talks had deteriorated, and by the end of Tuesday, talk of a majority and minority budget resurfaced. Of course, the Governor is likely to veto a majority budget, and it is most likely that veto would not be overridden. The sticking points for a unanimous budget surround various elements of tax reform and welfare reform. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and people are now looking past the June 17 statutory adjournment date and beginning to ask whether we are facing a state government shutdown for all but essential services on July 1.
Finger Pointing Sprinkled Among Negotiations
Political factions are already pointing fingers, claiming that some faction other than theirs will be the cause of the State shutdown should the budget impasse lead to that scenario. Additionally, Governor LePage has offered he would propose a continuing resolution to operate state government for a month past the June 30 deadline, to which the Democrats responded that such a procedure is illegal in Maine. The Governor has denied their claim. In a series of back-to-back press conferences, party leaders and entire caucuses asserted their respective grounds for the budget impasse. Leaders were then seen getting back together to try once again for a unanimous budget. Clearly the budget process will go to the wire and maybe beyond before being finally resolved.
Proposal to Eliminate Income Tax Rejected By House and Senate
Early this week both the House and Senate voted to reject Governor LePage’s proposal to eliminate the state income tax. The governor believes the savings realized by eliminating the income tax would allow Mainers to spend more money in other areas, but Democrats are concerned about how the losses in tax revenue would affect services funded by the income tax. In a press release issued this morning, Governor LePage asserted that he remains committed to the elimination of the income tax.
Bill to Direct Governor to Issue Bonds Receives Veto-Proof Votes
Late yesterday afternoon, more than two-thirds of the House and Senate voted for a bill that would require the Governor issue the $11.5 million Land for Maine’s Future bonds ratified by voters in 2010 and 2012. The two-thirds threshold was narrow in the House. While it is unknown whether the votes will hold in a veto override vote, one might fairly presume that a veto was anticipated during this first round of voting.
Despite Gubernatorial Vetoes, Democrat Bills Live On
In response to having his income tax proposal rejected, Governor LePage threatened to veto all bills sponsored by Democrats. He made good on that threat by vetoing 10 such bills this week. The House and Senate responded by reviving 9 of those 10 bills, with all 9 vetoes being overridden. The governor did allow one Democrat-sponsored bill into law without his signature. The bill, LD 697 sponsored by Rep. Michel Lajoie, relates to amusement ride insurance requirements and annual inspections and took effect immediately. Governor LePage has vetoed at least 42 bills since the start of this session and of those, the Legislature has overridden at least 14.
Twenty-One Nominations Withdrawn
Governor LePage withdrew 21 of his own nominations from consideration for various boards and commissions after Democrats delayed the confirmation of PUC nominee, Bruce Williamson. The governor sent letters to each nominee advising them of his decision but reportedly no reason for the withdrawal was given.
Three Superior Court Justices Confirmed
On Wednesday, the Maine Senate confirmed the nominations of three District Court Judges, Honorable Lance E. Walker of South Paris, Honorable Bruce C. Mallonee of Ellsworth and Honorable Wayne R. Douglas of Biddeford for appointment as Superior Court Justices.
Williamson Confirmed for PUC
After a one week delay, the Legislature’s Energy Committee approved the nomination of Bruce Williamson to the Maine Public Utilities Commission by a vote of 11 – 2 and forwarded their recommendation to the Senate. Tuesday morning, in a 25-10 vote, the Senate confirmed his appointment. Williamson, whose term will run six years, now joins fellow PUC commissioners Mark Vannoy and Carlisle McLean.