Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.
Maine Sees Higher Budget Surplus Than Expected
On June 30, 2016, Maine’s fiscal year ended with a revenue surplus of nearly $93 million, which is higher than earlier projections. In the event of a surplus, the budget for this fiscal year provided for some automatic cascades of money into funds to reduce the balance in the state’s unfunded health benefits for retired state employees, and to help stimulate the state’s biomass industry. After those allocations, nearly $71 million was placed in a surplus account and will be appropriated through the legislative process. Governor LePage has expressed disappointment and frustration over the automatic cascade of some of the money and that more of this surplus did not get put into Maine’s Budget Stabilization Fund, which is set aside as a rainy day fund.
Governor LePage May Seek Income Tax Reduction, Eliminate State Employee Positions
It came to light this week that Governor LePage is contemplating a proposed budget for fiscal years ending in 2018 and 2019 that would seek a reduction in the income tax rate for the state’s highest earners, from 7.15 percent to 5.75 percent, offset by a reduction of more than 2,000 state employee positions. This next budget must be presented to the Legislature in January 2017. That will set the stage for the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee and Leadership to consider, debate and, if true to form, revise and edit the budget before seeking full legislative approval and the Governor’s signature (or veto) near the very end of the session in June of 2017.
PUC to Consider Reducing Solar Power Subsidies
The LePage administration submitted a proposal to the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to phase-out the state’s “net metering” program. This program currently allows solar generators to sell their excess electricity back to the power company at retail rates, rather than at the lower wholesale price that utilities typically pay for electricity bought from larger generators. These sales at the retail rates provide solar power owners a better return on their investment. The higher retail rates paid by the utility are considered a subsidy by those customers who do not participate in net metering. The new proposal would end the current program after a three-year grandfather period, and replace it with a credit for the excess electricity at the lower, wholesale rate. An active hearing process on this proposal before the PUC is anticipated.
Mainers watching television are now seeing ads aimed at helping prevent prescription drug abuse. More than 270 Mainers died from drug overdoses in 2015. The ads, as well as a website, have been launched as a public service campaign by Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat who is rumored to be interested in running for Governor of Maine in the 2018 election cycle.
The Maine Ballots are Set
About 25 Maine Republicans travelled to Cleveland last week, and this week about 30 Maine Democrats were in Philadelphia to represent their respective party in the nomination of candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. More locally, Monday, July 25, 2016 was the deadline for replacing withdrawn Maine House and Senate candidates. Most of the slots were filled, but about ten seats out of 186 are left with unopposed candidates. There also are five citizen-initiated petitions and two bond approvals to be voted on. Over the next few months, all parties in interest will be vying for attention to educate voters and turn out their supporters at the polls on November 8, 2016.