Still No Budget as Statutory Adjournment Date Nears

As the legislative session ticks toward the statutory adjournment date of June 17, lawmakers still have not been presented a budget from the Appropriations Committee. Members of the budget writing panel continue to work behind closed doors and, as of Thursday afternoon, no public session had been announced. Negotiations over competing tax reform plans appear to be the sticking point. Competing plans have been pitched by the Governor, Democrat Leadership and some Republican members of the Appropriations Committee. Each proposal seeks to lower the tax burden on Mainers, but there are wide variations on how to achieve a lower tax burden among the plans.  The current budget expires on June 30.

Passamaquoddy, Penobscot Tribes Withdraw from Maine Legislature

On Tuesday the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes announced they were withdrawing their delegates to the Maine Legislature citing growing concerns about their perception of state government’s lack of respect for tribal sovereignty.  Issues over tribal fishing rights, judicial jurisdiction, and environmental standards have been points of contention between the tribes and state government in recent years. The Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians are each allotted one seat in the House of Representatives. Those representatives may present bills and sit on policy committees, but may not vote. Both tribes said they would look internally for guidance about the future of tribal-state relations.

Jobless Rate Hits 8 Year Low

The Department of Labor released unemployment figures for April this week. The latest statistics show Maine’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent in April, the lowest level in nearly eight years. Cumberland County had the lowest unemployment rate in April at 3.7 percent.  Washington County had the highest rate of unemployment at 8.0 percent.

Governor Proposes Public Defender’s Office

The Judiciary Committee has received a proposal from the Governor to create a public defender system in Maine to augment the existing process of contracting with private attorneys to provide indigent persons representation in criminal matters.  Maine has long relied on paying individual lawyers on a case-by-case basis.  The Judiciary Committee is requesting to carry over this bill until the second session to allow the necessary time to work on the bill.

Hearing on Timber Harvest Bill that is Holding Up Conservation Bonds

Wednesday the Energy, Utilities and Technology committee heard testimony on Governor LePage’s timber harvest bill. The emergency measure would increase timber harvesting on state owned land and the fees would help pay for home heating programs for those with economic needs.  The governor has vowed to withhold approximately $11.4 million in voter approved bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future program unless the Legislature enacts his timber harvest legislation. The bonds would fund 30 conservation projects around the state that were overwhelmingly approved by Maine voters and vetted by Lands for Maine’s Future, the independent state agency that funds the acquisition of land for preservation.