Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House is a weekly update that 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.
This Week's Highlights
Legislature Enters Final Stretch
The Legislature has entered the final stretch in the push toward adjournment on June 19th. In order to adjourn on time, the presiding officers have set May 17th as the date by which Committees must vote on all of their bills. This will be a difficult deadline to meet. In fact, as of Monday of this week, Committees had voted on roughly 50 percent of their anticipated bill load, leaving more than 700 bills needing action. In order to meet this deadline, the presiding officers have established new procedures to expedite committee work. This includes waiving notice requirements for advertising public hearings, authorizing committees to meet on weekends, and authorizing committees to hold work sessions at any time after a public hearing is held. Obviously, there is an even greater need to closely monitor legislation under these new procedures during the next phase of the session.
Appropriators Receive Bad News Regarding Revenue Forecast
This week, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee received some unwelcome news. Due to projected dips in both sales tax and corporate tax revenues, the revenue projections for the next two fiscal years have been revised downward by $60 million. This new $60 million gap must be added to the existing State budget gap that the Appropriations Committee is now working to fill, only making appropriators’ jobs more difficult.
Tax Reform Proposal Officially Rolled Out
This week, a major tax reform proposal that was developed by the bi-partisan “gang of 11” was printed in the form of a concept draft bill. LD 1496, An Act to Modernize and Simplify the Tax Code, was printed and referred to the Taxation Committee at the end of the week. Many in Augusta are now digesting this plan and are working to understand the implications of the plan, leading many to reserve judgment on the proposal. Notable legislators who are reserving judgment include both the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. Other members of the Legislature have expressed both opposition and support of the proposal. The Governor’s position on this reform package is not yet known. Those in the Legislature and in the public at large who are considering this proposal do not have a lot of time to formulate their position on this bill, as legislation is now rapidly proceeding through the committee process.
Major Initiatives of the Governor Topic of Debate
Governor LePage has also had a busy week advancing initiatives that he has made a priority. Earlier in the year, the Governor proposed a plan to pay Maine’s hospital debt with proceeds from the next State’s wholesale liquor contract. This proposal hit a snag this week as members of the Legislature have proposed tying this plan to an expansion of the Medicaid system in Maine. The Governor and supporters of the Governor’s plan in the Legislature have resisted tying these two issues together. At this point, it is unclear how this issue will be resolved. The Governor also captured the attention of many Mainers this week when the Department of Education unveiled a new system for grading Maine’s schools based on test scores and graduation rates. Under this system, schools receive a letter grade from “A” to “F.” This initiative has sparked a vigorous debate about the new letter grading system. What remains to be seen is whether this debate will affect the quality of education in any of the state's schools.
Election Speculation Remains a Pass Time in Augusta
Last week, Congresswoman Pingree announced that she will not be running for Governor in 2014, ending speculation that she may seek that seat. Congressman Michaud, who is considering a run for Governor, has not yet announced whether or not he will run for Governor. Those with a true passion for politics are also discussing who would run to fill Maine’s Second District seat, should Congressman Michaud vacate that position. There is plenty of time before the field for 2014 will be set and we will all be watching as these various races develop.
Utilities Committee Unanimously Approves Tim Schneider to be Public Advocate
On May 1st, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee considered Governor LePage’s nomination of Tim Schneider to be Maine’s next Public Advocate. Tim is currently a member of Pierce Atwood’s Energy Practice Group, where he has practice energy law since 2008. The Public Advocate is charged with representing ratepayers’ interested in proceedings before the Public Utilities Commission as well as in regional and federal matters. After receiving testimony from various parties and asking a number of questions, Committee members voted unanimously to approve Tim’s nomination. This nomination will now proceed to the full Senate for a final vote.
Security Screening at the State House Likely to Remain
Last year, a security checkpoint was established at the entrance of the State House. This extra security is estimated to cost the State $200,000 annually. This week the Legislative Council considered an after deadline bill that would eliminate this extra security. Because the bill was submitted after deadline, it needed the approval of six of the ten members of legislative leadership before the bill could be formally introduced. The proposal failed to garner enough support at Legislative Council, meaning security screening at the State House will continue.
Proposal to Require Disclosure of Corporate Tax Information Heard in Committee
On April 29th, the Taxation Committee held a public hearing on LD 1126, An Act Regarding Corporate Income Tax Disclosure. This bill would require corporations filing tax returns in the State of Maine to also file a “tax disclosure statement” with the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would then be required to maintain a searchable database of corporate tax information that is internet accessible. Those testifying in support of this bill included the Maine People’s Alliance, the Maine Education Association and the Maine Center for Economic Policy. Those in opposition included the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Society of Certified Public Accountants, the Retail Association of Maine and the Secretary of State. This bill has not yet been scheduled for work session.
Repeal of Law Limiting Employer’s Right to Oversee Firearms at the Workplace Voted on in Committee
On April 30th, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted on LD 265, An Act to Repeal the Restriction on Employers Regarding Firearms Kept in an Employee’s Vehicle. This bill would repeal a law enacted during the last Legislature that provides that an employer may not prohibit an employee with a concealed weapons permit from keeping a firearm in their locked vehicle while at work. The original law was passed over the strong opposition of a number of Maine employers. LD 265, the repeal bill, was supported by 5 members of the Committee, while 8 members voted against repeal. This bill will now proceed to the floors of the Senate and House for further consideration.