Governor LePage Delivers State of the State Address
On the evening of February 4th, Governor LePage appeared before a Joint Session of the Legislature to deliver his State of the State Address. This is the Governor’s last State of the State Address during this term of office and this speech is often considered the unofficial start of the political season before November’s elections. The Governor highlighted the accomplishments of his Administration and discussed a number of policy initiatives in various subject matter areas, including energy, education, welfare reform and spending on infrastructure. One of the major components of the speech was a proposal to create “Open for Business Zones,” where businesses locating to Maine would enjoy various incentives. The Governor also used this address to reiterate his opposition to Medicaid expansion, which is currently being considered in the Legislature.
Confusion at Appropriations Committee Briefly Touches off Partisan Disagreement
On February 3rd, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee caucused off microphone as members deliberated on LD 1762, An Act Related to the Report of the Tax Expenditure Review Task Force. This bill is intended to identify $40 million in savings in order to avoid a reduction in revenue sharing of the same amount of money. After caucusing, the Democratic members of the Committee voted to report out this proposal. Republican members of the Committee were absent. From there, each Party pointed fingers at the other, with Democrats saying Republican legislators “walked out” of the Committee meeting and Republicans saying Democratic legislators held an unscheduled vote. After considerable disagreement among the Parties, the controversy subsided when a member of the Committee explained that this was a simple matter of miscommunication. This situation escalated tensions between the Parties, but was, thankfully, short-lived.
While disagreements over the Committee process seem to have died down, the substance of this bill remains contentious. This bill, which was voted on along Party lines in Committee, repeals the existing $40 million statutory reduction in revenue sharing and partially offsets the cost of this repeal by taking money from the “rainy day fund” and a fund designed to slowly buy down Maine’s income tax rates. The majority proposal was considered in the House on February 6th. After hours of debate and 5 minority-forced procedural votes, this proposal received initial approval by a veto-proof majority. Two-thirds support for this bill is important, as the Governor has already indicated he does not support this bill.
Weather Postpones Hearings, Work Sessions
On February 5th, work in Augusta came to a halt as a snow storm swept in. Committee hearings and work sessions were canceled in anticipation of the storm, making for a quiet day. Committees are now working to slot those bills not considered on Wednesday into their schedule going forward. With almost all of the bills carried over from last session disposed of in committee, many committees have a more flexible schedule and Wednesday’s closure will not have a major impact on scheduling.
Governor Nominates Director of Maine Emergency Management Agency
On February 6th, Governor LePage announced that he has nominated Bruce Fitzgerald as the Director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency (“MEMA”). Fitzgerald has worked at MEMA since 2003 and has been serving as the Acting Director of MEMA since November of 2013, when the previous Director retired. Fitzgerald’s appointment must be approved by the State Senate.