Governor’s State of the State Address Scheduled for Next Week
On January 24th, the Governor’s Office announced that Governor LePage will deliver his annual State of the State Address on Tuesday evening, February 4th. In this speech, the Governor will attempt to shape his legislative agenda this session by highlighting several priorities for the coming year. Topics the Governor is likely to touch on include energy costs, infrastructure improvements and welfare reform. Additionally, as Medicaid expansion is one of the most controversial and consequential discussions this year, the Governor will almost certainly address this issue.
Most Carryover Legislation is Reported Out of Committees by Today
When the second regular session convened, Committee chairs were instructed to work and report out of committee by January 31st the 200 plus bills that were carried over from last session. This created a hectic pace while various committees tackled complex issues. With extensions granted on just a few bills, most of these carry over bills have now been reported out of Committee, as the leadership aims to keep the session on schedule to adjourn in mid-April.
Medicaid Expansion Legislation Remains in Committee
The Speaker of the Maine House has advanced LD 1578, An Act to Increase Health Security by Expanding Federally Funded Health Care for Maine People, which would expand Medicaid in Maine pursuant to the federal Affordable Care Act. This bill has been heard in the Health and Human Services Committee. Last year, Governor LePage vetoed two bills proposing to expand Medicaid and both times the Governor’s veto was sustained. Similarly this year, Medicaid expansion must have the support of two-thirds of both the Senate and the House in order to survive a certain veto from the Governor. Observers agree that, while some Republicans are willing to break ranks with the Governor on this issue, not enough Republicans are currently in support of Medicaid expansion to give this bill a veto-proof majority. Consequently, LD 1578 remains in Committee as advocates for this bill work to increase their vote count in both chambers.
Appropriations Committee Negotiating Various Budget Matters
This session, the Appropriations Committee is facing budget challenges on a number of fronts. As part of the current biennial budget, a task force was created to identify $40 million in tax-related savings or an equivalent amount of funding will be taken from municipal revenue sharing. This process, unfortunately, has pitted businesses that rely on tax incentives against municipalities seeking more State funding. The Appropriations Committee is charged with puzzling through this issue and spent the majority of the past week behind closed doors trying to find a solution to this budget issue.
In addition to closing this $40 million hole, the Appropriations Committee is also responsible for bringing the State’s budget into balance through the supplemental budget process. As is often the case, projections regarding State taxing and spending were slightly off target, meaning the State’s budget will be out of balance without corrective, legislative action. The Appropriations Committee is working now to first quantify the size of this imbalance and second to manage the imbalance. Much of this budget shortfall is a result of estimates regarding Department of Health and Human Services spending. The Appropriations Committee received notification at the end of last week from the Administration that the budget gap, which was once anticipated to be $119 million, is actually $30 million less than initially projected. This is, obviously, welcome news.
Senator Mitchell Addressed Joint Session of the Legislature and Portrait is Hung
On Tuesday, January 28th, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell addressed a joint session of the Maine Legislature and a packed audience in the balcony seats. In addition to addressing the Legislature, Senator Mitchell attended a portrait unveiling. His portrait, a photo of which is below, is now hung on display in the State House’s Hall of Flags.