New Legislature Sworn In, Governor Shares Initial Priorities
On Wednesday, December 7, Maine’s 128th Legislature was sworn in, including 55 new members out of the 186 members in the combined chambers. Republican Senator Mike Thibodeau was re-elected as Senate President and Democrat Representative Sara Gideon was elected as Speaker of the House. Governor LePage’s welcome address to the Legislature focused on his wish to modify two recently passed referenda (the 3 percent high-earner income tax increase and the minimum wage increase). Specifically, the Governor has asked the Legislature to reinstate the so-called “tip credit” for workers in the minimum wage law, and has stated that he will introduce a round of tax cuts in his budget aimed at counteracting the 3 percent tax surcharge.
House Speaker Shares Agenda
Speaker Gideon has announced that in the upcoming legislative session she will focus her attention on replacing lost manufacturing jobs and curbing child poverty. She also called for legislation that provides training opportunities for Maine workers entering or wishing to remain in the workforce, and expressed interest in supporting the introduction of new industries to Maine.
Constitutional Officers and Statutory Officer Re-elected
There are no changes among Maine’s constitutional officers. Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Treasurer Terry Hayes were all re-elected by secret ballot in an election held in a joint session of the House and Senate. State Auditor Pola Buckley, whose position is created by statute, was also re-elected in the joint session.
Status of Maine’s Fall Ballot Referendum Questions
On Thursday, December 8, Governor LePage certified the results of ballot questions that raised Maine’s minimum wage (Question 4), established ranked-choice voting (Question 5), authorized a bond issue to improve transportation infrastructure (Question 6), and rejected expanded background checks for gun purchases (Question 3). The minimum wage increase law and ranked-choice voting law will be effective on January 7. On December 2, after a recount request was withdrawn, the Secretary of State’s office submitted the results of Question 2 (a 3 percent income tax surcharge on high-income earners to fund K-12 education). The Governor certified that result on December 11. The result of the marijuana legalization initiative (Question 1) is currently undergoing a recount, which is expected to be completed in January.
Medicaid Expansion Signatures Collected
More than 65,000 signatures have been collected by volunteers for Maine Equal Justice Partners to compel the Legislature to again take up the issue of Medicaid expansion. The petitioner has 50 days from January 3 to submit the signatures to the Secretary of State, who must validate at least 61,123 signatures to certify the petition. The Governor has vetoed several similar efforts by the Legislature in recent years, and attempts to override those vetoes have been unsuccessful. This time, however, as a citizen-initiated petition, if the Legislature fails to pass the expansion proposal, the Maine Constitution provides that it shall be sent to the voters as a question in a statewide referendum.
Leadership Changes Within Department of Education
On November 1, Governor LePage appointed Robert Hasson Acting Commissioner of the Department of Education. Acting Commissioner Hasson has a long history in the field of education, having served as a long-term Cumberland and North Yarmouth superintendent, and more recently in leadership positions with the Maine School Superintendents and Maine School Management associations. This week, Deputy Education Commissioner Bill Beardsley announced that he is resigning his post by the end of the year for family reasons. Beardsley has held the Deputy Commissioner role since October 2015. With Beardsley’s retirement, some Mainers are calling on the Governor to nominate Acting Commission Hasson to the post of Commissioner of Department of Education.