Governor Inaugurated, Delivers His Address
On January 7th, Governor LePage took the oaths of office and officially began his second term as Maine’s Governor. As is custom, he also delivered his inaugural address. This was an opportunity for him to highlight successes from his first term in office and to begin to lay out his agenda for the next four years.
The Governor laid out an aggressive agenda tied together with a theme of “prosperity, not poverty.” He touched upon welfare reform; tax reform focused on the income tax, the estate tax and taxes on retirees’ income; investments in infrastructure; lowering energy prices; “right sizing” or shrinking state government; education reform; and finding efficiencies in town, county and State government. The details behind the broad issue areas will come to light through the Governor’s budget, his State of the State address and legislation that the Executive Branch submits over the legislative session.
Changes in the Executive Branch Announced, More Likely to Come
Last week, the Governor’s Office announced that the Governor has appointed his Senior Policy Advisor Tom Desjardin as Acting Commissioner of the Department of Education until his confirmation as Commissioner by the Legislature. Desjardin has taught, is the author of a number of history books related to the Civil War and most recently advised Governor LePage on education and natural resource issues. He replaces Commissioner James Rier, who is on medical leave.
This week, the Governor’s Office announced that the Governor has nominated Richard Rosen to serve as Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (Maine’s budget and tax Department). This announcement was not a surprise, as Rosen has been serving as Acting Commissioner since the retirement of the previous Commissioner, Sawin Millett. Rosen has a deep background in Maine’s budget process, having served in the Maine Senate, including serving as the Senate Chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. This nomination is subject to confirmation by the Legislature.
Also this week, the Governor’s Office announced that the Governor has nominated Carlisle “Carlie” McLean, the Governor’s Chief Counsel, as a Commissioner of the Public Utilities Commission. Carlie joined the Governor’s staff at the beginning of his administration after over five years of private practice and has served in various roles in the Governor’s Office since then, most recently as Chief Counsel. This nomination is subject to confirmation by the Legislature.
These are just the first in what will likely be a number of changes in the Executive Branch as the Governor enters his second term. We can expect to see changes within State agencies as well as in the Governor’s personal staff over the coming months.
Governor’s Budget Expected Today
Later today, the Governor will submit his biennial budget to the Legislature. This is the taxing and spending plan for State government for the next two years. Many are expecting ambitious policy proposals to be incorporated in the budget, given the agenda the Governor has thus far outlined. Many are expecting a budget that proposes drastic changes to Maine’s tax system, as the Governor is focused on reducing and/or eliminating Maine’s income tax. The release of the budget will trigger the months-long process by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee of reviewing and approving Maine’s spending plan.
Maine’s Constitutional Officers Sworn into Office
On January 8th, Governor LePage administered the oath of office to Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and State Treasurer Terry Hayes. The Legislature, in a joint convention, elects Maine’s three Constitutional Officers. Democrats hold a majority of all legislative seats and elected their candidates to the Attorney General and Secretary of State posts. In a surprise turn of events, however, the Republican candidate for State Treasurer was elected to this office. Perhaps a reflection of the partisan nature of these elections, Governor LePage administered the oath of office to the Attorney General and the Secretary of State in private ceremonies, but the new State Treasurer took her oath in a public ceremony in the Hall of Flags at the State House.
Senator Cathy Breen Sworn into Office
On January 8th, the final member of the Maine Senate, Senator Cathy Breen of Falmouth, was sworn into office by Governor LePage. Breen was not sworn in with the rest of the members of the Senate due to a disputed recount in her district.
Legislature Begins Session
This week, the Legislature got off to a slow start. Fewer than a dozen bills were printed this week and were referred to committee. Committees will start meeting to first provide some orientation to new members and then to start working on legislation. Next week, many members of the Legislature will take part in a bus tour around the State where they will learn about different regions of Maine and the different components of Maine’s economy. When that trip is concluded, the Legislature will focus on the work before them this session.
Maine May Face Crowded Ballots in the Future
In recent weeks, two citizen initiatives have announced that they are close to collecting the requisite signatures or have collected the requisite signatures to get on the state-wide ballot. One initiative proposes reforms to the Clean Elections system and the other would introduce ranked-choice voting in State races. Currently, there are nine citizen initiative petitions approved by the Secretary of State’s Office for signature collection and there is rumor of even more initiatives to come. This could, potentially, lead to some crowded ballots in 2015 and 2016 and more lawmaking by referendum in Maine.