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.
Senate Confirms Tim Schneider as Maine’s Next Public Advocate
On May 7th, the full Senate voted to confirm Governor LePage’s nomination of Tim Schneider as Maine’s next Public Advocate. Tim will assume this position after practicing energy law in Pierce Atwood’s Energy Practice Group 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.
Governor LePage Vetoes Two More Bills
Last week, Governor LePage vetoed his third bill of the session, LD 405, An Act to Increase Municipal Agent Fees for Licensing and Registration of Motor Vehicles. On May 7th, the House voted to sustain the Governor’s action in what was largely a party-line vote. The same day that the Governor’s veto of LD 405 was sustained, the Governor vetoed his fourth bill of the session, LD 6, An Act Regarding the Authority of a School Board to Elect a School Superintendent. This bill seeks to override several municipal charter requirements relating to local residency requirements for superintendents. The House will vote first on whether to sustain or override this veto. That vote may take place early next week.
Governor Releases Budget “Change Package”
On May 8th, the Governor’s Office released a “change package” to the biennial budget. Governor’s regularly rely on “change packages” to modify their original biennial budget proposals because budget conditions often change from the release of the budget at the beginning of the year to the time the budget is actually enacted. Last week illustrated just one of these changes when revenue projections over the biennium were revised downward by $60 million. A “change package” is designed to address these and other budget issues.
While the “change package” was released to little fanfare, there are several matters of interest in this budget document. The Governor’s Office remains focused on legal services, proposing a transfer of $1 million during the current fiscal year to the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services. Also proposed is $100,000 during each year of the biennium in increased funding for Pine Tree Legal Assistance. The “change package” projects over $700,000 in cost savings by switching State buildings to natural gas. Also included are a number of tax-related proposals, including language touching on BETR/BETE and a sales tax exemption on aircraft and aircraft parts. This “change package” will be considered by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee as it works to develop the biennial budget.
Tax Reform Proposal Remains A Key Topic of Debate
A wide-ranging tax overhaul proposal developed by the bi-partisan “Gang of 11” remained the topic of conversation in Augusta this week. The reform proposal, which garnered the attention of national anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, was discussed in the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on Monday. On Wednesday, Governor LePage made his first public remarks regarding the proposal, calling it a “bad deal.” On Friday, the Taxation Committee held a public hearing on LD 1496, the concept bill setting forth this proposal. Some have speculated that opposition to the proposal and lack of legislative and gubernatorial support will lead to the demise of this proposal. At the same time, this proposal remains the only alternative to the Governor’s politically unpopular budget proposal. Moreover, even if the entire package does not survive, some elements of the package could be used as revenue raisers to help balance the biennial budget.