Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.
Governor Vetoes Five Bills Held from Last Session
On January 10th, the very first week of this legislative session, Governor LePage announced that he had vetoed five of sixteen bills that he held from the last legislative session. Last year, the Governor set the record for the number of vetoes issued and these five vetoes may foreshadow a legislative session where few bills survive the legislative process. Of the five vetoes, two have been sustained in the House and these bills are now dead. The Governor’s veto of two of the bills has been overridden in the House and they are now before the Senate to determine if that body wants these proposals to become law over the Governor’s objection. The final veto is pending initial action in the Senate.
Size of State Budget Gap Quantified and Added to Existing Budget Challenges
On January 14th, Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, Sawin Millett, provided a briefing to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee regarding the budget gap for the remainder of the biennium. The Administration provided information to the Committee explaining how a $119 million budget gap has been identified.
The vast majority of the unanticipated spending that created this gap is through programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. This spending is the result of growth in MaineCare utilization and cost saving initiatives not generating anticipated savings. Other shortfalls were identified at the Departments of Administrative and Financial Services; Corrections; Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management; and Education as well as at the Judicial Branch, though these gaps were negligible compared to that of Health and Human Services.
This gap and any new spending initiatives that the Legislature chooses to enact this session must be paid for through either increased revenues, reduced spending in other areas or both in order to keep the State’s budget in balance. This news obviously presents the Legislature with a difficult assignment as it works to keep the State’s books in line.
The challenge posed by the $119 million gap is compounded by two other budget holes that need to be filled. There is a roughly $30 million package of savings that has been developed by the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management, as required by the current biennial budget. Some of the savings in the package require legislative changes and the Appropriations Committee, this week, held public hearings on these proposals. Additionally, the current biennial budget requires savings of $40 million to avoid a $40 million reduction to municipal revenue sharing. At this early juncture of the session, it is not clear how these budget challenges will be addressed.
Medicaid Expansion Bill Heard in Committee
On January 15th, the Health and Human Services Committee held a public hearing on LD 1578, An Act to Increase Health Security by Expanding Federally Funded Health Care for Maine People. This bill would expand the MaineCare program to an additional 60,000 to 70,000 people pursuant to language in the federal Affordable Care Act. Similar legislation was considered during the previous legislative session and vetoed twice by Governor LePage. In a packed hearing that lasted throughout the day on Wednesday, the Committee heard from a long list of proponents and opponents to this proposal. This legislation is certain to be one of the most consequential and politically charged bills of the session. LD 1578 is scheduled for Committee work session on January 22nd.
Gubernatorial Campaign Fundraising Disclosed
This week, the three gubernatorial campaigns released fundraising totals for the last half of 2013. The bottom line numbers for total campaign contributions raised are:
• Congressman Michaud - $1,003,239
• Eliot Cutler - $945,386
• Governor LePage - $718,978
Of course, there are many ways to dissect these fundraising disclosures and each campaign had their own take on these reports. At this point in the race, there are very few data points on which to assess a campaign’s strength. Barring polling data, these fundraising totals are one of the few proxies available to evaluate how a candidate is faring.