Budget Work Continues, Gains Momentum in Appropriations
As the clock ticks towards the statutory adjournment date of June 17, the Appropriations Committee continues their work to craft a biennial budget. They have nearly completed the spending portions of the budget. In late-breaking news on Thursday evening, reports emerged of a Republican tax package developed by two Republican members of the Appropriations Committee, who are expected to present it to their colleagues on the Appropriations Committee today. The proposal reportedly suggests significant modifications to the Governor’s original tax reform proposal. This development is expected to begin real momentum in the Appropriations Committee to finalize the tax portions of their proposed budget. It remains to be seen whether the Committee will be able to develop a compromise budget, as they do every session, but this offering by Representatives Timberlake and Nutting may provide that opening. If the Committee does develop a compromise budget, the question that will loom over the process is whether the Governor will support it, or if not, whether the Legislature will have the votes to override his veto.
Taxation Committee Recommends Nixing Amendment to Eliminate Income Tax
Members of the Taxation Committee, in a 7 – 5 party line vote of those present, rejected a proposal to amend the state constitution to eliminate the personal income tax in Maine. The Governor’s bill seeks to put the issue out to voters in a statewide referendum, and would create a constitutional amendment to eliminate the income tax by 2020 and prohibit the Legislature from enacting any income tax in the future. The bill will next go to the full Legislature for consideration. The proposal needs to gain two-thirds support in both the House and Senate to be placed on the ballot in November. The Tax Committee recommendation suggests this bill has an uphill battle in the Legislature.
Governor Testifies In Washington Before Congressional Subcommittee on Energy
On Wednesday Governor LePage testified before the Congressional House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power in support of a bill to speed up the federal permitting process and lower energy costs across our nation. The Governor spoke on legislation that proposes to improve the permitting of interstate natural gas pipelines, along with a draft bill to reduce the regulatory burdens on hydropower production. This action is consistent with Governor LePage’s activity among the Governors in New England, where he has been a driving force to secure more natural gas pipeline capacity through New England and into Maine.
Energy Legislation Introduced by Administration
Meanwhile, Governor LePage has recently submitted four more bills to the Legislature. The bills seek to advance the administration’s goals of lowering energy costs – notably electricity rates – for homes and businesses. Hearings on these bills before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee likely will be held in the next week or so but, because these bills were introduced in the last weeks of this legislative session, there is doubt they can all be considered before the session ends in mid-June, meaning some may be carried over to next January.
Conservation Bond Bill Hearing
The State and Local Government Committee held a public hearing this week on a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the governor or any future governor from deferring the release of voter approved bonds, absent extraordinary circumstances. The bill was introduced by Senator Roger Katz after the governor vowed to withhold approximately $11.4 million in voter approved bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future program unless the Legislature agrees to increase timber harvesting on state-owned land to pay for home heating programs for low income Mainers. The bonds would fund 30 conservation projects around the state that were overwhelmingly approved by Maine voters and vetted by Lands for Maine’s Future, the independent state agency that funds the acquisition of land for preservation.
Business Day at the State House
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Business Day at the State House on Thursday. The ultimate goal of this event is to promote working together to strengthen Maine’s economy and keep Maine competitive. The well-attended forum provided an opportunity for employers to discuss business issues and priorities with legislators and state government officials with as well as share their perspective on recent legislative activities that impact Maine’s business community.