Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 12-14-2012

by Pierce Atwood LLP
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Augusta, ME

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.

Legislative Session off to a Rocky Start

The Legislature has not yet turned to the business of legislating and will not until January. Without a focus on policy, things in Augusta remain focused on political rhetoric and speculation about committee assignments and chairs.

Governor LePage recently canceled a meeting with Democratic leaders, saying he would meet with Democratic leaders as soon as the Democrats stopped using a political “tracker” to record his public appearances. This has initiated a debate of the use of “trackers” and has also led to Democratic complaints that they are not receiving needed information from the Administration, particularly as it relates to the State budget. This situation may be thawing, as the Governor’s top budget-writer, Commissioner Sawin Millet, met with legislative leaders in both parties this week to discuss the State budget.

The relationship between the Governor and Democratic leaders in the Legislature is not the only relationship that is off to a rocky start. Republican leaders in the Legislature are also sparing with Democratic leadership. On the first day of this new session, Senate Republicans nominated a challenger for the position of Senate President, a move that some observers considered provocative. This week, Democratic leaders considered paying certain political appointees more than statutorily prescribed based on previous experience in these appointed positions, a move that Republicans in the Legislature sharply criticized.

With few policy decisions being made until the Legislature returns to work in January, we may see even more political posturing in Augusta.

Maine Ranked Last in Forbes’ Business Friendliness Study for Third Consecutive Year

This week, Forbes magazine released a survey ranking states by how friendly they are to business. The State of Maine was ranked last on this list for the third year in a row. Forbes explanation of this ranking was sharp, saying that “Maine’s problems run deep.” Specific reasons cited for the low ranking include: a high corporate tax burden, high energy costs, the oldest population in the country, the State’s contracting economy, low projected growth rate, low projected job growth rate, and low employee productivity. Political leaders reacted to this news by pointing fingers at who is to blame for this continued low ranking and highlighting their legislative agenda that they say will combat this dismal ranking.

Substantial Supplemental Budget Expected

It has been reported that State revenues continue to decline. At the same time, Department of Health and Human Services spending on MaineCare is projected to be $100 million over budget for the current fiscal year that ends on June 30, 2013. While the extent of the budget hole for the current fiscal year has not yet been officially tallied, some lawmakers have been quoted as saying that they expect to see a supplemental budget bill in the range of $150 million to $200 million. Because part of this shortfall is triggered by declining revenues, the Governor can temporarily cut spending through a curtailment order to the tune of $35.5 million. The Governor’s Office has said that it is considering this option and the Acting State Budget Officer has been in touch with State agencies, asking them to develop curtailment targets by December 13th. There has been some discussion regarding appointing members of the Appropriations Committee as soon as possible and calling that Committee in early to begin deliberations on a supplemental budget so that this matter can be addressed quickly. What is certain is that the Appropriations Committee will be extremely busy this year, as it is faced with assembling a biennial budget for the next two fiscal years after it resolves the existing budget hole now faced by the State.

Legislative Redistricting Process Just Beginning

In 2011, Maine redrew the boundary between Maine’s two Congressional districts. Now political leaders from both parties will proceed to redraw the boundaries of Maine’s state House and Senate districts in order to account for population changes. This process is just now getting underway, with Republican leaders naming their members of the constitutionally prescribed apportionment commission this week. Democrats have just released the names of their members. Obviously, this process will be of intense interest to political leaders, legislators and those interested in politics, as how districts are drawn can have a big impact on which party will control what legislative districts for the next ten years. The apportionment commission will submit its plan to the Legislature, which must approve the commission’s plan or an alternate plan by June 11th. If no plan is adopted, the Maine Law Court will be the final arbiter of redistricting.

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