Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House 10.5.12

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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.

This Week’s Highlights

State Facing $756 Million “Structural Gap” in Next Biennium

In order to aid the Governor in assembling his budget proposal, the Bureau of the Budget issues a report every two years comparing anticipated spending to anticipated revenues. The most recent budget report forecasts that spending will exceed revenues by $756 million over the next biennium. Like any forecast, the final product is only as good as the assumptions that go into the predictions. Some of the assumptions that the Bureau of the Budget is required to make are not realistic and the actual “gap” is likely less than $756 million. One thing is for certain, under current law, spending will outstrip revenues, meaning that policy changes regarding taxing and/or spending will need to be made to keep the State’s budget in balance over the next two years.

Maine No Longer Paying Dues to the National Governors Association

Governor LePage has decided that Maine will stop paying $60,000 in annual dues to the National Governors Association (NGA). The NGA provides a forum where Executives from the various states can share ideas and best practices. The NGA also assists states in lobbying the federal government on policy and spending decisions that affect the states. Concerns over the value of paying dues to the NGA led to the Governor’s decision. Some, however, have questioned this decision, citing the benefits of the NGA.

State Appeals Federal Decision Regarding Food Stamp Benefits

In 2011, federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) guidelines changed but Maine guidelines remained the same, resulting in 70,000 households receiving overly generous benefits for four months. This error resulted in $4.8 million in overpayments in Maine. The Maine Department of Health and Human Serviced intended to recoup these overpayments by reducing current benefits. Last week, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture directed the State to simply pay for the error and not recoup payment from beneficiaries. The State has appealed this decision. It is unclear when a decision on this appeal will be issued.

Maine State Housing Authority Audit Released

On October 1st, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released an audit report of the Maine State Housing Authority. The audit was critical of the Authority’s oversight of Section 8 housing, citing a high percentage of this housing that did not meet federal quality standards when audited. The audit also questioned the Authority’s procurement policy, citing high costs for information technology. This audit report was released on the same day that Authority’s new Director, John Gallagher, assumed his position. Director Gallagher expressed confidence in how the Authority will react to this audit report.

Judicial Branch Highlights Priorities for Next Legislative Session

Chief Justice Saufley recently asked Governor LePage to include two specific items in his biennial budget request, which will be submitted to the Legislature early next year. These two initiatives are increased funding for courthouse security and funding to help transition state courts to an electronic filing system. These two proposals, if fully funded, would result in an increase to the Judicial Branch budget of $8.2 million over two years. The majority of this new funding, $4.9 million, would ensure complete courthouse security. Currently, about half of all state courts have security. The rest of this funding would be used to begin the process of establishing an electronic filing system in Maine. The transition to electronic filing is expected to take about five years and cost between $10 and $15 million.