Governor’s Budget Proposal Released
On January 9th, Governor LePage submitted his biennial budget proposal to the 127th Maine Legislature. This document is the blueprint for state taxing and spending over the next two fiscal years. As expected, this document proposes many major tax policy changes that accomplish a balanced budget while incorporating Governor LePage's priority policy agenda items related to tax reform. A summary of the tax reform related provisions of the budget prepared by Pierce Atwood’s State and Local Tax practice group can be found here.
In addition to the significant tax reform provisions, this document touches upon many other aspects of state government. For example, the budget attempts to “right size” government by assuming an aggressive 3 percent attrition rate while also eliminating state government positions outright, including 100 positions at the Department of Health and Human Services. The budget includes $10 million to facilitate local and regional governments identifying administrative efficiencies and an additional $10 million to provide incentives related to school consolidation. The Governor addresses welfare reform by proposing restructuring the General Assistance funding formula and by eliminating various benefits, like SNAP and TANF benefits, for “legal non-citizens.” This budget includes funding to eliminate various waiting lists for programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. The Governor’s proposal also addresses drug crimes by funding Attorney General, District Attorney, District Court and Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Positions. Higher education is also a priority in this budget, with $10 million devoted to the Maine State Grant Program, an increase for the University of Maine System’s budget and over $5 million to support commercialization of research performed at the University of Maine. You can view the budget itself and accompanying documents here.
This is just the beginning of the budget process, which will unfold over the next several months. From here, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will be briefed by members of the LePage Administration, who will discuss the details of this proposal with the Committee. These briefings have already begun and once they are complete, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will schedule public hearings on the various parts of the budget. Additionally, committees of jurisdiction will consider the budget and provide input to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee regarding their various policy areas. The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will then consider all of this information as it assembles the final legislative document for consideration in the House and Senate. Once passed by the House and Senate, the document is returned to the Governor for his approval.
Legislation Being Printed
Legislation is just starting to be printed and referred to committees of jurisdiction. At the end of this week, there are just under 100 bills available. This year, we could easily see over 1,700 bills introduced, so this is just the start.
We do, however, have a sense of what will be introduced this year. Just this week, the Revisor of Statutes published a list of bill titles submitted by legislators. These are just titles and sometimes titles are intentionally vague to disguise the intent of the underlying bill, but this does give a sense of what will be debated this session. You can view this list of 1500 plus bills by sponsor here or by subject matter here.
Representative Dickerson Expected to Resign, Special Election Likely
This week, Representative Elizabeth Dickerson, who represents Owls Head and Rockland, announced her intention to resign from the Maine House of Representatives to pursue work out of state. Once her resignation is official, these towns can request that the Governor declare a special election. A special election for this seat will likely be followed with great interest in Augusta, as the partisan margins in the House are quite close.
Community College System President Resigns
On January 14th, Community College System President John Fitzsimmons announced his resignation from this post that he has occupied for 25 years. Last week, Governor LePage told reporters that he wanted Fitzsimmons to resign, saying that Fitzsimmons has been hard to reach and unresponsive to the Governor’s agenda. Technically, the System’s Board oversees the President’s Office, but Fitzsimmons decided to resign at the Governor’s request, citing fear of political retribution to the Maine Community College System.
Changes Ahead for Maine PUC
This week, outgoing Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) Chairman Tom Welch was interviewed by Mainebiz regarding his 15 years as a PUC Commissioner. Welch retired from this position on December 31st, triggering what will be a series of changes at the Commission. With his retirement, Governor LePage named Commissioner Mark Vannoy as Chair of the Commission. The Governor has also nominated his Chief Legal Counsel, Carlisle McLean, to fill the vacancy created by Welch’s retirement. McLean’s nomination will be considered by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on January 22nd. Current Commissioner David Littell’s term on the Commission is set to expire in March, triggering speculation that the Governor will elect to appoint someone more aligned with his policy objectives to this post. Should that be the case, all three Commissioners would be LePage appointees for the first time in the Governor’s tenure.