Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.
This Week’s Highlights
Appropriations Committee Reports Out Supplemental Budget and “Rainy Day” Fund Bill
At 3:00 a.m. on March 19th, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted unanimously to report out two budget-related bills. The Committee agreed to a proposal submitted by Governor LePage to restore roughly $20 million to the State’s “rainy day” fund, LD 1807. The Governor objected to this fund being diminished earlier in the session to provide revenue sharing dollars to municipalities and vowed he would not issue voter-authorized bonds until the fund was restored.
The Committee also agreed to a supplemental spending bill, LD 1843, that closes a roughly $40 million budget gap for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30th, and contains some supplemental spending dollars for the second half of the biennium. This bill will solve the State’s most immediate budget needs as legislators determine what action they are going to take to address funding shortfalls for the next fiscal year. Both of these proposals should be brought to the floors of the House and Senate quickly.
Medicaid Expansion Proposal Approved in Both Chambers, Another Readied for Action
This week, LD 1487, a bill that ties the issue of Medicaid expansion to the establishment of a managed care program in the MaineCare system, was enacted in the House. Last week, this bill received majority support in the Senate and was voted to be engrossed in that chamber. Despite support in both chambers, neither body produced a veto-proof majority in support of the bill. This is of consequence because Governor LePage is expected to veto this proposal, should it be sent to his desk.
While LD 1487 has been considered in both chambers, another Medicaid expansion proposal, LD 1578, is scheduled to be considered by both bodies soon. This second bill would expand the Medicaid program without implementing a managed care program. This proposal has been reported out of the Health and Human Services Committee and could be considered in the House as soon as today, March 21st. Should this proposal be sent to the Governor, it is also expected to face a gubernatorial veto.
Governor Introduces a Spate of New Legislation
During the month of March alone, Governor LePage has introduced 16 new bills. These bills span many issue areas and touch on themes often discussed by the Governor publicly. Among these recently introduced bills are:
Four proposals to reform the TANF program by requiring work searches by beneficiaries and limiting the use of EBT cards to in-state purchases and limiting what can be purchased with EBT cards.
A proposal to restore the State’s “rainy day” fund.
A proposal to implement the Governor’s plan to combat the use of illegal drugs by providing funding for additional District Court Judge positions, additional Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officers and additional prosecutors within the Attorney General’s office.
A proposal to assess local school districts for costs associated with remedial coursework by students enrolled in a State-affiliated higher education institution.
A proposal to send an advisory referendum to the voters regarding tax reform.
A proposal to limit the ability of the federal government to acquire more than five square miles of land for various government purposes, presumably to assert some control over any attempts to establish a north woods national park in Maine.
A proposal to empower the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to investigate the accuracy of campaign statements.
A proposal to create “open for business zones” that would provide various tax and labor benefits to very large job-generating projects.
A proposal to provide heating assistance to Mainers through funds generated by increased timber harvesting on state land.
A proposal to reduce income taxes on pensions.
Many of these proposals are major changes in State policy and they have already received media attention. It is unclear how many of these proposals may advance, given the policies at play and the fact that the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn by April 16th.
Governor’s Veto Overridden
This week, Governor LePage vetoed LD 39, An Act to Expand the number of Qualified Educators. This bill allows retired teachers to receive full pay while receiving a pension. Current law provides that retired teachers who are still working and receiving pensions are only allowed to receive 75 percent of their salary. This veto was considered in the House and then the Senate, with both bodies voting overwhelmingly to override the Governor’s veto.