Democrats Take their Budget Plan on the Road While Governor Pushes For Constitutional Amendment

Democrats took their “Better Deal for Maine” budget pitch to Bangor this week. Leaders said their plan is simple and focuses on cuts to the income tax for the middle class, property tax relief, and investment in education. Meanwhile, Governor LePage called for a constitutional amendment to abolish the state’s income tax. Reduction of the income tax is the center point of this proposed biennial budget. The Appropriations Committee is squarely focused on the budget and working earnestly to craft a 2-year budget plan.

New England Governors Discuss Lowering Energy Cost

New England’s governors agreed Thursday to a mix of regional and state actions to cut persistently high energy costs and updated their agreement to pursue major investments in natural gas pipelines and electrical transmission lines. The group also identified renewable energy such as solar and wind power as solutions to lowering the cost of energy. The governors were not specific on the cost of proposed improvements because legislative and regulatory procedures differ in each state.

State’s New Markets Tax Credit Program Under Scrutiny

Legislators this week said they will seek changes to the Maine New Markets Capital Investment (NMTC) program. This action comes following a newspaper report on the program. The report focused on a deal to finance the Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket. The deal allowed for a refinancing of a high interest loan, and caused the mill to remain in operation for over a year longer than it would have otherwise. The report failed to mention a December 2014 study by economist Charles Colgan, Ph.D., then-Director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research, University of Southern Maine. The study concluded the state is projected to receive $1.56 for every dollar it will pay out under the program, and had the Great Northern Paper mill succeeded, the state would have received $2.02 of tax revenue for every dollar. The article also failed to mention during the additional months of operation, the mill generated more than $100 million of economic activity in an otherwise economically depressed part of the state. It did make small mention of the other nine transactions completed under the program, including one that stimulated the $135 million investment in two new tissue paper machines in Washington County. The project will employ 80 people (at least 60% of whom are required to have historically low incomes) and save 320 existing jobs in one of the poorest counties in the country.

Fix Debated for $38 Million Typo in New Law on Energy Efficiency Program

Lawmakers took the first steps this week to correct a one-word clerical error potentially worth $38 million for an energy-efficiency program. The omission of the word “and” in the omnibus energy bill passed into law in 2013 has set the stage for a power play between the legislature and Governor LePage. Two bills have been submitted to correct the error, one sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and another backed by House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette; however, Representative Fredette’s bill would also create a new Department of Energy. The governor has threatened to veto a “quick fix” bipartisan bill.

Maine People’s Alliance Announces Minimum Wage Referendum Campaign

A referendum effort has been launched to raise the state’s minimum wage. The Maine People’s Alliance has begun collecting signatures for a 2016 statewide referendum seeking to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9.00 an hour by 2017, and then by a dollar a year until 2020 when it would reach $12 an hour. After 2020 the minimum wage would then be indexed to the cost of living in future years. The referendum also seeks to raise the tipped wage from $3.75 to $5.00 in 2017 and then gradually increase the tip wage until it matches the basic minimum wage in 2024. Maine People’s Alliance must collect more than 60,000 signatures to put the measure out to voters.

Charity Care and the Affordable Care Act

A concept draft bill looking to align the federal Affordable Care Act's health care coverage opportunities and hospital charity care will be considered by the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. The proposed legislation would align mandatory charity care laws governing hospitals and subsidized health insurance coverage under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.