Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House. If you would like more specific information regarding an item in this newsletter or related to government relations, please contact a member of our Government Relations Practice Group: John Delahanty, Andrea C. Maker, or Avery Day.
Augusta’s Focus on Elections
Most everyone’s attention in State government and in the Maine media is on November’s elections, which are less than three weeks away. Without wading into specific contests, it is worth noting that the voters will have a lot to say when they go to the polls. This year, Maine voters will vote on the Presidency, a U.S. Senate seat, both Congressional seats, the balance of power in both the Maine Senate and the Maine House as well as the same-sex marriage question and four bond issues. With so much at stake, it is no wonder all attention is on Election Day.
Governor Promotes Staff to Legal Positions
When Dan Billings took his seat on the Maine bench, the position of chief legal counsel in the Governor’s Office became vacant. This week, Governor LePage promoted his deputy legal counsel, Michael Cianchette, to chief legal counsel and the Governor also promoted Carlisle McLean to general counsel. McLean will retain her role as senior natural resources policy advisor. Both Cianchette and McLean have served the Governor since the beginning of his Administration in 2011.
Deputy Commissioner of Department of Labor Named
Richard Freund has been appointed as the new Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Labor. He replaces former Deputy Commissioner Jeanne Paquette, who is now the Commissioner of the Department. Freund has worked for the Department for three years and worked for the State Workforce Investment Board before serving at the Department of Labor. Before serving the State, Freund worked in the private sector, including 16 years at Citigroup.
State Revenues Below Projections for First Quarter of State’s Fiscal Year
This week, it was announced that State revenues are almost $27 million below revenue projections for the first three months of the State’s fiscal year, which began on July 1st. Tax revenues were down in every major category, including individual income tax, sales tax, corporate income tax and the tobacco tax. Because revenues have been down each month, it is possible that the Revenue Forecasting Committee will revise revenue projections downward in its next forecast. A revision downward will only complicate the Administration’s task of formulating a biennial budget, as the Bureau of the Budget has already projected a structural gap during the next biennium that must be closed in order to balance the State’s budget. The structural gap coupled with shrinking revenues indicates that budget negotiations will occupy a very large portion of the legislative agenda next session.
Energy Remains a High Priority on the Governor’s Agenda
Energy remains a hot topic in Augusta, indicating that this will be a major issue of debate during the 126th Legislature. The Maine Heritage Policy Center recently released a report examining the benefits and costs of Maine’s renewable portfolio standard, which mandates that a certain percentage of retail electricity sales come from renewable sources. Governor LePage followed up on this report by criticizing the renewable portfolio standard in a weekly radio address, calling the mandate an “economic barrier” that harms Maine families and businesses. The Governor’s Office also released a web video of the Governor discussing energy and the renewable portfolio standard. Clearly, energy costs remain a priority for the Governor and this issue will be debated in the 126th Legislature.
Maine Moves Up in State Business Tax Climate Index
The Tax Foundation, a national think tank focused on state and federal tax policy with “pro-business” leanings, recently released its 2013 State Business Tax Climate Index. Under this index, Maine now ranks 30th. This ranking is notable, however, as Maine advanced seven positions on the index – the most sizable rank improvement this year. Maine’s repeal of the alternative minimum tax and a change in the treatment of net operating losses were cited as the primary reasons for Maine’s improved rank.
State Seeking Companies Interested in Developing Energy Corridors
The recently created Interagency Review Panel is now seeking letters of interest from companies that are interested in developing energy transmission projects (electricity and natural gas transmission) along Maine’s I-95 and I-295 corridors. In 2010, legislation was enacted designating three energy corridors in Maine, establishing the Interagency Review Panel and creating a process by which the Panel would identify developers of energy projects. As originally envisioned, this statutory scheme would potentially provide a mechanism for electricity generated in Canada to be transmitted through Maine, though there may be potential for other uses of these corridors.