Maine Voters to See Four Referendum Questions This Fall

This fall, Maine citizens will be faced with voting on four citizen-initiated referendum questions. One proposes to institute a ranked choice voting, or “instant runoff” process in Maine whereby voters would list their candidate preferences in order to ensure the ultimate winner receives the most votes and the broadest support. The second proposes to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 to $9.00 an hour in 2017, followed by incremental annual increases to $12.00 an hour by 2020.  This initiative has triggered the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and a broad-based coalition of businesses and other trade associations to lead a legislative effort to put a competing measure proposing a more moderate minimum wage increase on the ballot. The third referendum question proposes to assess a 3% tax surcharge to Maine households earning over $200,000 to provide additional funding for elementary and secondary education. The fourth proposes to mandate background checks on all gun sales in Maine. Two citizen-initiated petitions did not receive certification from the Secretary of State’s office due to a lack of valid signatures. Those failed petitions, one of which would have allowed a casino in Southern Maine and one of which would legalize marijuana, apparently will not appear on the Maine ballot this fall. Backers of the marijuana proposal have indicated they will appeal the Secretary of State’s decision that sufficient valid signatures were not filed with his office.

An upcoming special edition of Under the Dome will provide further comprehensive analysis of the questions that will be voted upon in the fall.

Tax Conformity Debate Continues

Governor Paul LePage announced earlier this week that he will not support any legislation that ties tax conformity to additional education spending.  The Maine House of Representatives has passed a tax conformity bill for tax year 2015 that also provides additional school funding.  For this measure to become law, the Legislature will need to garner a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate in order to override the Governor’s veto.  It is still possible, though, for the two-year conformity bill, that is not tied to education funding and that is sitting in the Senate, to be enacted.  This bill would presumably be signed by the Governor.  In short, the tax conformity stalemate continues.

LePage Proposes to Eliminate Maine Estate Tax

Governor LePage has announced a proposal to eliminate Maine’s estate tax. The estate tax, which levies a tax on the transfer of property upon the death of the transferor, currently has an exemption amount equal to the federal exemption, which for tax year 2016 increased to $5.43 million. Previously, the Maine exemption was $2 million; prior to 2013, the exemption was $1 million. The Governor’s proposal, which is sponsored by Representative Stedman Seavey and Senator Earle McCormick, would eliminate the estate tax completely, effective January 1, 2017.

Legislature Debates Land Transfer Bill and North Woods National Monument

On Thursday, March 3, opponents of a national monument designation for the land in Maine’s north woods spoke before the Committee on State and Local Government on LD 1600. The bill, which had a lengthy public hearing on Thursday, would require that any Maine deeds transferring lands to the federal government contain a reversion clause that would automatically cause the ownership of the land to go back to the grantor if the President of the United States attempted to exercise his authority to declare the land part of a national monument. The groups supporting LD 1600, including the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, officials from the Millinocket area and forest products representatives, argued that a national monument designation would damage the forest products industry in Maine.

Trump, Sanders and Cruz Make their Cases in Maine Ahead of Caucuses

Maine is getting its time in the spotlight of the Presidential campaign this week leading into the state’s Republican and Democratic caucuses that are being held this Saturday and Sunday, March 5 and 6, respectively. In advance of the caucuses, presidential hopefuls Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both held rallies in Portland this week. Senator Sanders was greeted by a packed house at the Maine State Theater on Wednesday, March 2 while Mr. Trump drew an overflow crowd at an event on Thursday, March 3 at the Portland Westin Harborview Hotel. Governor Paul LePage introduced Mr. Trump, who spoke to over 1,100 supporters. Outside, protesters gathered to oppose Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Senator Ted Cruz is scheduled to host a rally on Friday, March 4 at the University of Maine in Orono.

Legislative Committees Given One-Week Extension to Complete Work

House and Senate Leadership have granted a one-week extension to the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committees to complete their work on bills that are pending. Friday, March 4 was the previously scheduled deadline for 100% of bills to be reported out of committee, but in light of the number of bills still pending consideration, leadership of both chambers has agreed to extend the deadline by a week. Once bills are reported out of committee they will move their way through the House and Senate floor votes. The scheduled adjournment date for the Legislature is April 20, although they have the authority to adjourn earlier or to extend the session by up to ten additional “legislative” days.