Legislature Met on July 20 to Consider Bond Bills, Items from Special Appropriations Table

After a two-week break, the Legislature convened on July 20 to vote on some remaining unfinished business, bond bills approved by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) Committee, and legislation taken off the Special Appropriations Table. Bond bills require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate and approval by the Governor to be advanced to a statewide referendum vote. The Legislature approved a $105 million transportation bond that will provide infrastructure funding for Maine’s highways, bridges, and multimodal facilities. However, the Legislature did not reach a final decision on two other bond bills approved by the AFA Committee. One would help relieve student debt and encourage workforce development in Maine. This bond bill, sponsored by Senator Nate Libby, has Governor LePage’s support, but was unable to garner the necessary two-thirds vote in in the Senate and in early voting in the House, where it has now been tabled. The third bond bill approved by the AFA Committee would promote research and development and the commercialization of Maine products and services. That bond bill also missed the two-thirds mark in the initial round of votes and has been tabled. The Legislature also took final action on bills that were removed from the Special Appropriations Table by the AFA Committee.

Veto Day Set for August 2 – Solar, Cellular Phones and Legal Age for Tobacco Purchase Among Vetoes to Be Considered

Some of the key vetoes the Legislature will consider on August 2 are the ban on handheld mobile devices while driving, raising the age requirement for purchasing tobacco, and a bill to roll back the PUC’s decision earlier this year on net metering for solar power customers. Legislators will also vote (typically pro forma) on the Joint Order containing the list of carry-over requests that have been approved by the presiding officers. The Legislature may adjourn sine die at the end of the day on August 2, unless any additional vetoes are forthcoming on bills that may be enacted that day.

State Ends Fiscal Year 2017 with $111 Million Surplus

The Governor’s office announced on Wednesday, July 26 that the state ended its fiscal year on June 30 with a $111 million surplus. The Administration has said that it will put $36.8 million of that surplus into the Budget Stabilization Fund and dedicate another $9.4 million to the Tax Relief Fund for Maine Residents. Additionally, $51.7 million of the surplus has already been accounted for in the budget for this biennium, which was passed on July 4. An amount of $350,000 will be moved to the Governor’s contingency account. Governor LePage, in a statement about the surplus, said that he was encouraged that his calls for fiscal responsibility are resonating with members of the legislature.

Maine Marijuana Implementation Committee Proposes a 20% Tax on Sales of Recreational Marijuana

The Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation (MLI Committee) last met for an eight-hour session on Tuesday, July 25, and agreed to recommend that Maine impose a 20% tax on recreational marijuana. The citizen-initiated referendum that approved the use of recreational marijuana set a 10% sales tax, but the MLI Committee has proposed adding an additional 10% excise tax. The MLI Committee has also proposed that 5% of all state taxes collected from the industry be distributed to communities with cultivation or retail operations. The MLI Committee has been meeting regularly throughout the session to develop legislation to implement the new recreational marijuana law in time for a targeted 2018 start date for retail sales. There have been rumors that a special session could be called in October for the full legislature to consider legislation produced by the MLI Committee.

Governor LePage Issues Executive Order to Bureau of Forestry on Tree Growth Tax Program

On Monday, July 24, the Governor issued an Executive Order directing the Bureau of Forestry to work with local municipal property tax assessors to review forestry plans for properties enrolled in the Tree Growth Tax Program. The program, which has been in existence since 1971, provides property tax incentives for commercial woodlot owners to retain and improve their holdings of forest lands. The Governor’s Order also instructs the Bureau of Forestry to provide recommendations to municipal property tax assessors on how to work with non-compliant woodlot owners. The Legislature considered legislation this year offered by the Governor that would have made changes to the program, including changing the minimum lot size for participation from 10 acres to 25 acres, and would have required an audit of the program and removal of properties that did not meet requirements. The Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee has requested that the bill be carried over for consideration next year. In the meantime, the Legislature’s Taxation Committee has called upon a number of stakeholders to establish a working group to review the program, identify any changes that should be made to the law, and report back to the Taxation Committee by February 1, 2018. Governor LePage has asked that the Bureau of Forestry report back to him on its work with local property tax assessors by December 15, 2017.