Budget Negotiations Continue

The Legislature continues its work to develop a compromise budget measure that could receive the necessary two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate in order for the budget to take effect on July 1 and to override a potential veto from Governor LePage, should that be necessary. Earlier this week, in the face of a seemingly insurmountable impasse and a quickly ticking clock, the Legislature voted to appoint an even number of Republicans and Democrats, including the Senate President and Speaker of the House, to serve on a Committee of Conference that was tasked with hammering out a compromise.

As of June 16, the Committee of Conference was deadlocked over key issues such as education funding and the 3% income tax surcharge on household income over $200,000. The Democrats have proposed an additional $200 million in additional education funding over the next two years which is $100 million less than their earlier proposal that failed to pass both chambers. Their version also contains a change in the income tax surcharge to 1.75% on household incomes over $300,000. Alternatively, Senate Republicans have indicated they are unwilling to go as high as $200 million for education, and House Republicans are offering in the neighborhood of $50 million for education with a requirement for education reforms. Both Republican caucuses are holding firm in their commitment to approve a budget that repeals the entire 3% income tax surcharge. The Committee of Conference has another seven legislative days to meet, but it is unclear whether they will continue to do so. Reports are that the Senate President, Speaker, and Minority leaders met with Governor LePage this morning, June 16, to discuss budget matters.

Though the current budget doesn’t expire until June 30 at midnight, the Governor has ten days from the time a bill is enacted in the House and Senate in which to take action. If the Governor takes all ten days and then vetoes the bill, the Legislature would have to reconvene to take up the veto. If the Legislature is able to deliver a budget to him on June 19, they could reconvene on June 30 to address a veto, should one occur. If a veto override fails, the state could be looking at a shutdown due to the lack of a budget on July 1.

Other Legislative Work Ongoing During Budget Negotiations

Even as the Committee of Conference is meeting to create a budget, the House and Senate are continuing to push through the work still left to be completed. There are about 340 bills to be finally acted on, in addition to roughly 75 bills awaiting action by the Governor, who can sign a bill, veto a bill, or take no action, which allows it to become law without his signature. Of the 340 bills, about 65 of them are on the Special Appropriations Table where they will either receive funding and be passed into law, or not receive funding and be defeated or carried over to next year’s session. There are about 190 bills that already have been requested for carry-over to the Second Regular Session. Statutory adjournment is next Wednesday, June 21, but the Legislature is allowed to extend its time up to ten legislative days, which are days in which the legislature meets in session. However, the Governor has ten business days, excluding Sundays, in which to veto a bill. At a minimum therefore, the Legislature is likely to recess after all bills have been sent to the Governor’s desk, but not adjourn the current session until at least ten days later when they would reconvene to consider any vetoed bills.

Commissioner of DAFS Resigns Post

Earlier this week, Governor LePage announced the resignation of Commissioner of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS), Richard Rosen. Rosen, who previously served as a State Senator and Senate Chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, had served in his role as Commissioner of DAFS since 2015. Legislators on both sides of the aisle were quick to praise Rosen as a well-respected and thoughtful leader who has been critical to the budget negotiations thus far. As Commissioner of DAFS, Rosen has been responsible for helping to shepherd the most recent ongoing two year budget negotiations. Senate President Mike Thibodeau commented that “[Rosen’s] presence will be sorely missed.”

Senior Housing Bond Bill Fails to Overcome Governor's Veto

Last week, Governor LePage vetoed a bill that would have allowed the State Treasurer to release senior housing bonds approved by voters in 2015 without direction or approval from the Governor. The bill, titled, “An Act to Carry Out the Will of the People of the State of Maine by Ensuring the Issuance of Bonds to Support the Independence of Maine Seniors,” was approved by the Maine House and Senate and sent to the Governor in mid-May. The Governor vetoed the bill on June 2. The Senate voted to override the veto, but the House vote failed to garner the necessary two-thirds votes necessary to override, meaning that the legislation is now dead. The bill was introduced by Senator Roger Katz in response to the Governor’s refusal to release the bonds for sale, and the State Treasurer is currently not allowed to issue bonds without approval from the Governor.

Technology Bond Likely Approved as Final Results Come In

Even as the votes from Tuesday’s ballots continue to come in, it looks as though a $50 million technology bond question has passed. The bond would provide $50 million for equipment upgrades in seven technology sectors in Maine including aquaculture, forestry, agriculture, and composite materials. The Secretary of State’s office provided preliminary results to the Bangor Daily News, indicating that the bond looked to be passed by roughly 20,000 votes. Officially, towns in Maine have three days to deliver initial results to the Secretary of State’s office.