Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.

State’s Highest Court to Consider Solemn Occasion Request
Last week the Senate asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of rank choice voting.  Although Maine voters approved the rank choice voting initiative last November, Maine’s constitution states that a candidate must win by a “plurality of votes” and opponents believe rank choice voting may not allow for this.  This week the court agreed to address the issues, asking for briefs on both the question of whether  a solemn occasion, the benchmark necessary for the court to become involved, does exist, and on the merits of the questions regarding the constitutionality that were submitted by the Senate.  If the court determines a solemn occasion does exist, it will proceed to address the questions regarding the constitutionality of the law.  The court has invited interested parties to submit written briefs on both questions and will hear oral arguments on April 13, 2017. 
Governor LePage Delivers State of the State Address
Governor LePage delivered his State of the State Address on February 7, 2017 before a joint convention of the Maine House and Senate. Major themes of the Address included the need to lower the state’s income tax, reduce electricity costs, adopt more welfare reforms, and protect the elderly. The Governor also took aim at two of the recent ballot initiatives, the three percent high earner tax, and the increased minimum wage, stating that, as they currently stand, both would have serious consequences for the state’s economy. He also indicated that his proposed budget contains welfare reform measures designed to increase benefits to the developmentally disabled and the elderly while eliminating benefits for able-bodied adults. The Governor also touted school consolidation, the need to keep senior citizens in their homes, and the importance of ensuring child support payments are being made. We can expect that the Governor’s budget will be the subject of extensive negotiations in the weeks and months ahead.   
Governor, Attorney General at Odds Over Immigration Ban
As most people know, President Trump signed an Executive Order temporarily banning immigrants from seven countries. The Order also suspended the Refugee Resettlement Program, which, among other things, connects immigrants with resources when they arrive in the country. Governor LePage indicated that he supports the ban. At the same time, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills signed a brief, along with 16 other attorneys general, asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to find the ban unlawful. According to Attorney General Mills, the temporary ban has kept people from foreign countries intending to travel to Maine from arriving as planned. On Thursday, February 9, the three judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing the matter upheld the U.S. District Court Judge’s decision to stay the Executive Order. The Administration will now have to decide whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the case.  
Public Hearings Underway on Governor’s Proposed Budget
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has launched its review and analysis of the biennial budget proposal for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 (July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2019) submitted by Governor LePage. This week, the Committee, accompanied by the Taxation Committee, focused on the tax provisions including proposals to amend Maine’s homestead exemption and related revenue sharing, business equipment reimbursement and exemption laws, excise tax on telecommunications equipment, and individual and corporate income taxes. The Governor is proposing to continue reducing Maine’s overall income tax rates, incorporating the 3% high earner income tax surcharge in his proposals, with a goal to reduce Maine’s highest marginal tax rate from 10.15% to a flat tax of 5.75% for all individual income tax payers. Next week, the Committee will move on to the Education portions of the budget.

Spotted…Under the Dome!

Richard W. Rosen, Commissioner of Administration and Financial Services, presents Governor LePage’s tax proposals to the Appropriations and Tax Committees on Friday morning.