Supplemental Budget Bill Approved, On Governor's Desk
On Tuesday lawmakers approved a $28 million supplemental budget that closes a nearly $2.5 million gap that threatened to close some county jails. The budget, which gained approval by 146-1 margin in the House, also includes funds for 29 new positions at Riverview, the state run hospital for persons with mental illness, and restores $5 million in funding for anti-smoking programs. The governor had proposed a $7 million cut to those programs. The bill is on the governor’s desk and he has ten days from Tuesday to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law by letting the ten days lapse.
Governor Veto Action Begins
The governor has issued his first three vetoes of the session on the grounds that the bills would increase taxes and create greater burdens on the executive branch. On Thursday, the House voted unanimously to override Governor LePage’s veto of a bill that proposes to reduce taxes and fees on for-hire vehicles that install equipment to serve people with disabilities. The Senate will vote on the matter when they reconvene on Tuesday. Also on Thursday, a second veto override vote fell short on a bill that would have reduced the length of time to appeal a tax lien foreclosure, rendering that bill dead. The veto of the third bill, to provide a tax exemption to nonprofit collaboratives of libraries, has yet to be voted upon.
Lawmakers and Business Groups Working on Minimum Wage Compromise
Business groups are working with both Democrat and Republican lawmakers on a compromise to raise the minimum wage. The last increase in the state’s minimum wage was in 2009 when it rose to $7.50 per hour. An effort to increase the minimum wage incrementally to $9 per hour was vetoed in 2013. At this time it is not clear how large the proposed increase would be or if the measure could win the Governor’s approval.
State’s Bond Rating Retained by Fitch Ratings
The state has retained its “AA” rating on general obligation bonds and “A ” rating on general restriction bonds by Fitch Ratings, who specifically singled out the state’s management and reforms to the MaineCare program as the “key ratings drivers” for the positive credit outlook.
Portland Democrat Says Bill Has Nothing to Do With Gubernatorial Politics
Representative Matt Moonen, a Democrat from Portland says the bill he is sponsoring to change the way a replacement is selected for vacancies in the U.S. Senate is not aimed at Maine's US Senator Susan Collins. Speculation has been brewing in Augusta that the bill was an effort to block Governor LePage from appointing a replacement for Senator Susan Collins should she decide to run for the Blaine House in 2018. Moonen’s proposal would allow voters to select the replacement. Current state law allows the governor to appoint a replacement until the next statewide general election.
Typo Could Cost Maine Consumers Millions
Business and environmental groups say the exclusion of the word “and” from the 2013 omnibus energy bill could limit funding for energy efficiency programs next year. The error led the Public Utilities Commission to vote 2-1 earlier this month to limit spending on energy efficiency programs to $22 million a year. The figure is below the $60 million cap that some lawmakers say was intended when they passed the widely supported legislation two years ago. Republicans on the Legislative Council blocked consideration of a bill aimed at overturning the Maine Public Utilities Commission decision to reduce funding for energy efficiency programs.
Changes Proposed to Governor’s Tax Reform Plan
Former state senator and economist Dick Woodbury calls the governor’s tax reform proposal “a really workable package”. Woodbury was the chief author of a 2013 tax reform plan pitched by a group of bipartisan legislators known as the “Gang of 11”. However, according to Woodbury some portions of the governor’s plan would not be “palatable” to the Legislature. The Yarmouth independent suggests nine changes to the plan including eliminating the proposal to tax non-profits, retaining revenue sharing with municipalities, doubling the homestead exemption for all Mainers, and eliminating the proposal to tax professional services. Woodbury recommends the corporate income tax rate be reduced but not as much as the governor has proposed. He also recommends the state limit the income tax exemption for seniors, and stops talking about eliminating the income tax, but rather focus on reducing it.
Baldacci PUC Appointee Stays, Pending Replacement
The Maine Public Utilities Commission member who cast the dissenting vote in two recent controversial decisions has decided to stay on board after his six-year term expired at the end of March. David Littell was appointed to the commission by former Governor John Baldacci. Governor Paul LePage is expected to nominate a replacement for Littell in the next few weeks. Littell had been the dissenting vote in the PUC's decision to cut funding for Efficiency Maine by $38 million and its decision to reconsider two wind projects that were initially approved by the commission in December.