Legislative Stalemate Over Tax Conformity Continues

The Maine Legislature has reached a stalemate on the issue of tax conformity. The ongoing debate is between the Republicans' position to adopt full tax conformity with the new federal laws for the full biennium, and the Democrats' position to adopt full tax conformity for only one year.  The Democrats note that about $23 million of funding may be needed to compensate some towns for an anticipated loss in their state share of education funding, and they are unwilling to commit the full $37 million for tax conformity until they resolve the education funding budget challenge.  Leadership continues to try to find an accommodation, although hints from the Chief Executive's office suggest that the Governor’s stake in the ground is for an all or nothing result for tax conformity.

Unanimous Committee Support for Chief Justice Saufley’s Reappointment to Maine Supreme Judicial Court

This week the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to recommend the reappointment of the Honorable Leigh Ingalls Saufley to a third term on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Justice Saufley was first nominated to the Maine Supreme Court bench in 1997 by Governor Angus King. She was confirmed in 2001 as the first female Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and was reappointed to her position in 2009 by Governor John Baldacci. The Judiciary Committee’s recommendation will now go to the Senate, which will vote on final confirmation of the Chief Justice’s reappointment.

Maine State Legislature Delays Adding Wednesday Sessions

Despite the plan on the legislative calendar, the Maine House and Senate will not be meeting on Wednesday, February 24. Currently, the House and Senate hold sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays but were scheduled to start meeting on Wednesdays as well. Every year, the Legislature begins meeting more frequently toward the end of the session when there is a crunch to finish work. This year, the Legislature is processing a reduced number of bills and is stalled around issues such as tax conformity. As a result, there are not enough bills ready to be debated and voted on to need the additional Wednesday session. It is anticipated that within the next few weeks, the Legislature will commence its Wednesday sessions, and likely move into double sessions as the mid-April adjournment date approaches.

Legislative Hopefuls Must Declare Candidacy by March 15

Maine citizens who wish to declare their candidacy for Maine Senate or House seats must do so by March 15, 2016. While the current Legislature will likely be in session until mid-April, many Mainers already have their eye on the fall election season. In any Presidential election year the focus on elections is high, but this year the interest may be even higher as a divided Legislature seeks to reshape the partisan balance in each body. The Republicans will be looking to hold on to the Senate majority and try to take over the House, while the Democrats will be working to hold onto the House majority and take over the Senate. With less than a month left until the deadline, candidate announcements will likely start rolling out quickly.

Legislators Eye Gas Tax Increase to Fund Infrastructure Repairs

The Maine Department of Transportation currently has an infrastructure budget shortfall of about $168 million. The shortfall is due in part to the increase in fuel-efficient cars on the road, something Transportation Committee members will consider when determining the best way to make up the budget difference. The Committee has been discussing numerous ways to increase revenue. For example: lawmakers could increase the gas tax across the board; raise the gas tax only during the summer months; add a surcharge to the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles; and increase a number of fees. Given the low cost of gas across the country, some lawmakers are favoring an overall increase in the gas tax. Currently, gas in Maine is subject to a federal gas tax of 18 cents per gallon and a state gas tax of 30 cents per gallon. Recently, several states have acted to increase their gas taxes in light of the falling gas prices. While no clear proposal has been presented, the Transportation Committee will continue to discuss a wide range of options even as some push for a temporary implementation of a 5 cent raise in the gas tax to cover the shortfall.