Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 10-28-13

by Pierce Atwood LLP
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Augusta, ME

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.

Inside this Issue

 

November 5th Election Day Approaching

Tuesday, November 5th is a state-wide election day in Maine. This referendum election involves a state-wide vote on five separate bond proposals, to be presented in the following order:

  • Question 1 – $14 million for capital spending for the Maine Army National Guard
  • Question 2 – $15.5 million for capital improvements to the University of Maine System
  • Question 3 – $100 million for infrastructure reconstruction and rehabilitation
  • Question 4 – $4.5 million for capital improvements to the Maine Maritime Academy
  • Question 5 – $15.5 million for capital improvements to the Maine Community College System

Detailed information regarding each bond proposal can be found in the Secretary of State’s Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election.

Municipal elections will also be held at the same time. While municipal elections are local affairs, some have drawn additional attention due to the fact that former state legislators are seeking municipal office (e.g., in Augusta, Biddeford, Portland, Saco). Some municipalities also are voting on local ordinances of significance, including, for example, the City of South Portland’s vote on the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance.

Legislative Council to Consider Bill Requests on October 30th

Maine’s Legislative Council, the ten members of legislative leadership (six Democrats and four Republicans) is scheduled to meet next week to take preliminary votes on the roughly 400 requests to introduce legislation next year. The Legislative Council is scheduled to meet on October 30th at 10:00 am to begin consideration of these bill requests. To be authorized for introduction next year, a bill must receive the support of at least six members of Legislative Council. Next Wednesday’s meeting, however, is not the last word on the matter. Sponsors of proposed bills that are rejected can appeal and seek reconsideration by the Legislative Council.

The bill requests that are approved by the Legislative Council along with the 200-plus carry over bills, bills introduced as the result of study groups and task forces and bills proposed by the Executive Branch and its agencies will comprise most of the legislation that will be considered during the 2014 legislative session. After deadline bills will also be considered.

Medicaid Expansion Likely Part of 2014 Legislative Agenda

This year, the Legislature sent Governor LePage more than one iteration of a proposal to expand Maine’s Medicaid program as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats argued the importance of expanding access to healthcare insurance, while the Governor focused on the size and limitations of the current MaineCare program and future costs to the State that would result from this expansion. The Governor vetoed the various expansion bills that reached his desk and his vetoes were upheld by a sufficient number of Republicans in the Legislature to kill Medicaid expansion.

Democrats and some Republicans in the Legislature, however, continue to press this issue and clearly want to revisit this proposal in 2014. In recent weeks, Governor LePage has signaled that he could possibly support some type of expansion, citing some creative ideas coming out of both Arkansas and Iowa related to healthcare insurance. It is unclear at this point what the Governor would support but this new dialogue on this issue signals that Medicaid expansion will very likely be a major policy issue in the Maine Legislature’s upcoming session.

State Operations Back to Normal Following Federal Government Shutdown

Shortly following Congress’ vote to fund the federal government and stop the 16-day federal government shutdown, State government operations were back to normal. The shutdown affected the operation of State government due to the fact that a number of State positions are federally funded. It has been reported that roughly 100 State employees were temporarily laid off during the shutdown. At this point, all State workers are back on the job.

State Revenues Above Projections for First Quarter of State Fiscal Year

Last week, Commissioner Sawin Millett of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services released information showing tax revenues for the first quarter of the State’s fiscal year were $13.3 million above projected levels. This small surplus was fueled by better than expected individual income tax and sales tax revenues. This information was presented to the State’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission, which works to help inform the process of estimating future State revenues. The Commission heard from a number of authorities, who all seemed to confirm that the State’s economy is growing, just not as fast as everyone would like.

New Additions to Governor’s Staff

Over the past few weeks, Governor LePage has added two new people to his staff who are responsible for advising the Governor on policy matters. Hank Fenton has joined the Governor’s Staff as Deputy Counsel and will be advising the Governor on matters related to the Departments of Public Safety and Corrections. Hank is a recent graduate from the University of Maine School of Law and has worked for both York County District Attorney and the State Attorney General’s Office.

Tom Desjardins has also joined the Governor’s Staff as a Senior Policy Advisor on matters related to the Departments of Education, Environmental Protection, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Marine Resources. Tom holds a PhD in History from the University of Maine and has served as an historian within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

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