Maine State Legislature Considers Supplemental Budget

The Maine State Legislature held late night sessions on Tuesday in an effort to pass a supplemental budget. The Senate passed the bill 31-4 and the House passed it 82-66. However, the versions of the bill approved by the two bodies are different, meaning that the bill is now in non-concurrence. Toward the end of the week, the dynamics and rumors suggest that leaders may be trying to work a compromise. It is not known at this time whether Governor Paul LePage is involved in these discussions.  Next week is apt to be the culminating week on development of a supplemental budget, which is usually one of the final bills enacted in a session.   

Governor Paul LePage Submits Minimum Wage Bill

Governor Paul LePage has submitted his own competing minimum wage measure to the Legislature. The bill proposes to gradually raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2020. If approved by the Legislature, the Governor’s bill would go on the ballot this fall as a competing measure to the citizens' ballot initiative that proposes to gradually raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.  Many believe the Governor’s bill will become a key bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations over a supplemental budget, as the Governor will likely put pressure on Democrats to approve his bill in exchange for his blessing on a supplemental budget.

Nomination Activity Creates Political Football

Governor Paul LePage withdrew several of his nominations this week, following a committee rejection of one his nominees. In a party-line vote, the majority of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee voted last week to reject the Governor’s nominee to the Unemployment Insurance Commission. As a result, LePage cancelled the swearing-in ceremony of Susan Deschambault last Friday. In response, the Senate refused to take roll call votes until she was sworn in, which happened at 4:45 on Tuesday, April 5. The Senate then resumed business as usual. Subsequently, the Governor withdrew that nominee, as well as his nominees to the Worker’s Compensation Board and the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission. Though the Governor did not cite a reason for withdrawing these nominees, it was reportedly done in response to the slight on his nominee last week, although many other nominations have proceeded apace. It remains to be seen whether the Governor will resubmit the withdrawn nominees at a later date.

Senior Housing Bond Funding Likely to be Delayed

Governor Paul LePage said on Wednesday that he will not authorize the funding for a $15 million senior affordable housing bond that voters approved at the ballot box last fall. LePage cited “problems” with the bond and stated that unless the language is corrected under a new legislature, he will not release the bond during his time in office. By law, the Governor has five years from the time a bond is approved by voters to release the funding. A bill was recently passed in the House that would direct the bond money to be issued with or without the Governor’s approval. However, Republicans are strongly opposed to the bill, which failed in the Senate, meaning that it is likely dead.

Legislative Workload Waning

With the Legislature’s April 20 statutory adjournment date looming, the Legislature’s workload has diminished to somewhere between 50 and 100 bills. Of those, about 14 are yet to be reported out of committee. In addition, to wrap up its business the Legislature needs to finalize a supplemental budget, determine the funding source for the recent changes to the Maine Clean Election Act, and decide on  the proposed minimum wage competing measure for the fall ballot, all of which potentially could be wrapped up into one negotiated package in the waning weeks of the session.