Budget Approved by Legislature
Early Wednesday morning the Maine House and Senate approved a $6.7 billion budget by a two-thirds or greater margin. Despite vastly different priorities, both parties were able to compromise. As it currently stands, Republicans have achieved some tax reform and Democrats have achieved additional funding for K-12 education and nursing homes. The major sticking point remained whether to provide General Assistance to immigrants without citizenship. Ultimately the approved budget does not provide immigrants’ access to General Assistance. The governor returned 64 line-item vetoes adding up to about $60 million. Some of the larger line-items vetoed by Governor LePage include payment to Federal Qualified Healthcare Centers, the funding of a Maine Department of Transportation study of passenger rail service, and the funding of SNAP, TANF and SSI for non-citizens. On Thursday evening, the House overrode all 64 vetoes in separate votes, building to a record-breaking rate of about 22 seconds per override vote on the vetoed item. The Senate is expected to consider the vetoes today.
Potential Assistance for “Lawfully Present” Immigrants
The Senate, in a 29-5 vote, passed a bill that would continue to provide General Assistance to immigrants who are in the country legally or are seeking asylum. This is a complete turnaround from a decision made earlier this week to leave this issue out of the state’s budget. While the bill specifically spells out that immigrants in the country illegally would not receive assistance, it is cautioned that, despite this initial vote, Republicans will ultimately vote this bill down.
LD 489 and LD 404 were both voted down in the Senate this week after failing in the House last week. Both bills involved an attempt to prohibit labor unions from collecting representation fees and union dues from employees who choose not to participate. These were the latest Republican bills aimed at making Maine a “right-to-work” state, and similar efforts have failed in previous years.
Minimum Wage Increase Uncertain
The House and Senate each approved a different version of LD 92, the bill proposing to slowly increase the state’s minimum wage over a period of years. The Senate approved version of the bill would increase the state minimum wage to $9 an hour by October 2018. The Senate’s bill also includes provisions preventing municipalities from setting a separate, local minimum wage requirement and relaxing child labor laws. The House version of the approved bill would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by October 2018 but does not contain the other two issues addressed by the Senate. If the House and Senate are unable to come to a consensus, the bill will die. The Senate voted Thursday to approve LD 1361, Governor LePage’s bill to prevent municipalities from being able to set a minimum wage that is different than the state minimum wage. This bill still faces additional votes in both the House and the Senate.
Slow to No Economic Growth in Maine
With its economic output reported as only 0.2 percent from 2013-2014, Maine ranks 47th among the states, well below the 2.2 percent national economic output increase in the same year. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports the New England region grew 1.2 percent. While Maine’s 0.2 percent represents the smallest growth in New England, it is an improvement from the two prior years when Maine output declined.
Portland to Host Arctic Conference
The Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials meeting is coming to Portland, Maine in 2016. Senator King lobbied for Maine to host and his effort will bring more than 200 Arctic leaders and experts to Maine for the three day event. Portland became the U.S. port of call to Eimskip, a shipping company based out of Iceland, in 2013, and hosting this meeting offers an opportunity to showcase Maine’s other businesses.