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.
This Week's Highlights
Legislature Completes Its Work for the Year, Almost
The Legislature reconvened this week to finish work on a number of outstanding, budget-related matters. After a couple of late nights, the Legislature enacted a budget, a number of bills that were pending funding on the Special Appropriations Table and five separate bond bills. With these matters completed, the Legislature’s work is done. The Presiding Officers, however, decided not to adjourn sine die in order to preserve the Legislature’s ability to come back into session to address any bills that were enacted this week that may be vetoed by Governor LePage.
Should the Legislature convene for a “veto day,” likely the only business that will be addressed would be vetoed bills. The decision to delay adjournment sine die means that the effective date of non-emergency bills passed this year will also be delayed, as most bills generally become effective 90 days after final adjournment. This decision also limits the ability of sitting legislators to fundraise from certain sources until the Legislature has finally adjourned.
Department of Health and Human Services Supplemental Budget Enacted
This week, lawmakers passed and the Governor signed into law a budget bill designed to close an almost $80 million gap at the Department of Health and Human Services during fiscal year 2013. This budget achieves savings by reforming a number of programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. As is normally the case, there are also a number of policy initiatives in this bill as well, including:
- A use tax amnesty program, scheduled to run for a short period of time this fall;
- An income tax exemption for active duty military pay;
- An increase in the income tax break provided to those receiving pension income;
- Language to merge the Departments of Agriculture and Conservation; and
- Language to reorganize the Department of Health and Human Services.
This proposal was s supported primarily by the majority party and is therefore a “majority budget.” Other budget bills during the 125th Legislature have been consensus budgets, supported by almost all members of the Legislature. Given the partisan divide on this proposal, it was a controversial bill. Once reported out of the Appropriations Committee, this bill worked its way through the Legislature in just one day and was signed into law by Governor LePage the next day.
Bond Bills Approved by the Legislature, Governor has the Next Move
This week, the Legislature voted by a two-thirds majority to send five separate bond proposals to the voters. The five proposals are:
- $51.5 million for transportation projects;
- $20 million for research and development;
- $11.3 million for higher education;
- $7.9 million for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure; and
- $5 million for land acquisition.
Before these measures can be put on November’s ballot, they must be approved by the Governor. Governor LePage has indicated that he may not support some or all of these bond proposals, meaning all eyes are on the Governor’s Office to see what will happen next. The Governor’s decision regarding whether or not to veto these proposals may be affected by Moody’s decision this week to revise the outlook on Maine’s debt to “negative” from “stable.”
The Presiding Officers’ decision to return for a “veto day” stems largely from the Governor’s position on these bond bills, as a “veto day” will give legislators the opportunity to revisit the Governor’s decision to veto any of these bond bills.
Legislature Addresses Three More Vetoed Bills
When the Legislature returned this week, it was confronted with three bills that had been vetoed by Governor LePage. The first bill, LD 1745, addressed fees charged by the Fire Marshall’s Office for inspecting amusement rides, which the Governor opposed due to fee increases. The Governor’s veto was sustained in the Senate. The second bill, LD 1550, proposed increasing document filing fees at county registries of deeds, which the Governor opposed. The House voted to sustain this veto. The third bill, LD 1761, proposed to update 911 services in Maine and included an increase in 911 monthly surcharges, which the Governor opposed. The House voted to sustain this veto.
Mark Vannoy Confirmed as Public Utilities Commissioner
Governor LePage’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the Public Utilities Commission, Mark Vannoy, was confirmed this week. The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee held a confirmation hearing on the nomination on May 14th and the Committee’s favorable report on Mr. Vannoy was confirmed by the full Senate by a vote of 33 – 0 on the very next day. Vannoy will now join Commissioners Tom Welch and David Littell on the three member commission.
Primary Day Drawing Near
Maine’s primary elections will be held on June 12th, which is quickly approaching. Most primary observers are focused on the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Senator Snowe, where there are six Republicans and four Democrats on the primary ballot. There are also two Republicans on the primary ballot for both Maine’s first and second congressional district seats. In addition to these top of the ticket primaries, there are close to 40 primary contests by those vying for State Senate and House seats.