Bonds by Day
As the end of the session nears, the 13-member Appropriations Committee held a series of public hearings this week on 20 different bond bills. Bond bills require the support of two-thirds of the House and the Senate to be placed on the next statewide ballot for voter ratification. The bills considered this week run the gamut, seeking funds for transportation infrastructure, high-speed broadband infrastructure, conservation, agriculture, innovation in products and services, hunger alleviation, housing, economic development and research and development, among others.
Budget by Evening
Following almost two full days of budget negotiation sessions last weekend and several days of lengthy hearings on bonds, the Appropriations Committee rolled on into long evening sessions of budget negotiations this week. Occasionally the Committee would emerge from their back offices to assemble around the horse-shoe shaped Committee table where they publicly processed motions to move line items into or out of their budget, working from the 260 plus budget items in the Governor’s original proposal. The budget committee sought to create a unanimous budget, but a divided report began to emerge, with a handful of House Republicans standing by reforms proposed in the Governor’s budget that were voted out by the remainder of the committee. The majority budget being developed reflects, in large part, a continuation of the current budget.
Budget Building Efforts Move from Committee to Leadership
Mid-week, Legislative Leadership became more involved in the effort to craft a unified budget to present to the Legislature; while many Appropriations Committee members waited to be called back together. The budget-making process can change on a moment’s notice, and it appears that nothing will be certain, or even predictable, for a while yet. The state’s current budget expires on June 30.
Legislative Calendars Chock Full
In other legislative activity, business at the Committee level is almost complete and bills are moving to the House and Senate calendars at a rapid clip. The House and Senate sessions have increased from 3 to 5 mornings a week, and the floor sessions are taking longer as debates and other political maneuverings consume more time. In today’s calendars, over 40 bills in the Senate and over a dozen bills in the House are tabled for future action. Bills are generally tabled to allow time for floor amendment negotiations, for caucuses to become educated and prepared for floor debates, for procedural reasons or simply for enough session time to allow for an anticipated lengthy debate. We are beginning to hear talk of moving to double sessions soon.
LePage PUC Nominee Approved
On Thursday, in an 11-2 vote, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee approved gubernatorial nominee Bruce Williamson for the Public Utilities Commission. The Democrats had initially tabled the nomination, citing a need for more research on Williamson, who hails from Tennessee. Next, the Senate will vote on whether or not to confirm Williamson’s appointment. No date for this vote has been set, but it will likely occur next week.
Without ACA Subsidies, Healthcare Premiums Would Increase Exponentially
A recent report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates healthcare premiums will increase by almost 400 percent for those with coverage under the Affordable Care Act if the subsidies intended to assist in the cost of coverage are lost. Approximately 90 percent of Mainers who purchase coverage under the Affordable Care Act take advantage of the subsidies offered. Without subsidies, the average monthly premium for healthcare in Maine this year will jump from $88 with subsidies to $425 without subsidies. A ruling on the future of healthcare subsidies is expected from the U.S. Supreme Court later this month.