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
GOVERNOR, ATTORNEY GENERAL DISAGREE OVER GENERAL ASSISTANCE
In what has been characterized by some as capitalizing on a national political issue, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued guidance to municipalities that General Assistance money cannot be distributed to “unlawfully present aliens.” This prompted the State’s Attorney General, Janet Mills, to state that no authority exists to deny General Assistance in this circumstance. This week, Governor LePage sent a letter to each Maine municipality reiterating his Administration’s position and announcing that his Administration would deny General Assistance funding to municipalities that provide General Assistance to these recipients. This prompted Attorney General Janet Mills to reiterate her position, resulting in conflicting guidance for municipalities. It is unclear how this situation will be resolved.
GOVERNOR WILLING TO SIGN MHHEFA BONDS
This week, the Governor’s Office clarified that the Governor is willing to sign bonds issued by the Maine Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority (MHHEFA). This is an entity that pools capital projects by non-profit educational facilities and healthcare facilities in order to issue tax-exempt bonds. In 2011, Governor LePage stated he would not sign these “moral obligation” bonds. When the State paid its debt to Maine hospitals in 2013, the Governor stated that he would release all bonds. The Governor’s Office this week clarified that this includes MHHEFA bonds.
PRIMARY RECOUNTS NOW COMPLETE
Maine held its primary elections on June 10th and by June 19th, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had announced the results of the two recounts that resulted from these elections. On June 18th, there was a recount between Jacqueline Sartoris and Ralph Tucker, Democratic candidates for House District 50, which represents part of Brunswick. After the recount, Tucker maintained his ten-vote margin and will now appear on the general election ballot in November. On June 19th, there was a recount between Representative Andrea Boland and Senator John Tuttle, Democratic candidates for Senate District 33, which represents part of York County. After the recount, Senator Tuttle maintained his lead in the race, winning by 22 votes, and will now appear on the general election ballot in November.
COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP SHUFFLED
After winning the Democratic primary for Maine’s second congressional district seat, Senator Emily Cain has resign from both the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Government Oversight Committee. This has resulted in some reshuffling of those committees.
This week, Senator Christopher Johnson assumed the role of Chair of the Government Oversight Committee, a role formerly occupied by Senator Cain, and Senator Troy Jackson was appointed to this Committee. The Government Oversight Committee is a bi-partisan committee, comprised of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, that is chiefly in charge of legislative oversight. This Committee directs the work of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, a legislative office that undertakes investigations of various State government issues. Though the Legislature is not currently in session, the Government Oversight Committee continues to meet regularly in the off-session to carry out its work.
Additionally, Senator Margaret Craven has been appointed to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee to fill that open seat. This Committee also meets regularly while the Legislature is out of session in order to keep track of budget issues as they develop.
APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE HOLDS INTERIM MEETING
On June 17th, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee held an interim meeting to receive updates regarding various budget-related matters. State Treasurer Neria Douglass informed the Committee that she was finalizing a $127 million bond sale and provided information regarding which projects would be funded by this sale. She also discussed the two recent positive revisions of Maine’s bond rating by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. The Committee also received a revenue update for the first eleven months of the current fiscal year. At the beginning of June, revenues were $18.7 million over projections, potentially setting the State up for a year-end surplus at the end of this month.