Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House 11.30.2012

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

With Recounts Complete, Composition of the 126th Legislature Set

This week, the Secretary of State’s Office completed all requested recounts for legislative elections. In all, recounts were conducted in ten House races and two Senate races. No recount ended up changing the result in any of these twelve races. With these recounts now complete, we know the composition of the 126th Legislature. When legislators are sworn in on December 5th, the Senate will be composed of 19 Democrats, 15 Republicans and 1 Un-enrolled member and the House will be composed of 89 Democrats, 58 Republicans and 4 Un-enrolled members. There will be plenty of new faces in the 126th Legislature. In the Senate, only 18 of 35 members will be returning incumbents. Of the 17 new Senators, five have no previous legislative experience. In the House, only 86 of 151 members will be returning incumbents. Of the 65 new members of the House, 55 have no previous legislative experience.

Negative Budget and Revenue Projections Greet the New Legislature

On November 29, 2012, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee met for the last time during the 125th Legislature. The Committee was presented with sobering budget and revenue figures. Budget projections for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2013, are off and the next Legislature will be required to enact a supplemental budget to rebalance the State’s budget. Most notably, the State’s Medicaid budget is more than $100 million out of line. Added to negative spending news is the fact that tax revenue projections for the current fiscal year have been revised downward by $37 million. Further, revenues for the next biennium were projected downward by almost $127 million, adding to a structural gap for the next biennium that will likely be in excess of $750 million.

The response to this news will prove interesting. The Administration has the ability to implement spending cuts through a temporary curtailment order. Republicans in the Legislature appear to be more supportive of a prompt curtailment order than the Democrats. At the moment, it is unclear whether there will be a curtailment order and, if so, at what amount. Regardless of what happens with curtailment, the Legislature will need to craft a supplemental budget and it has been suggested that the new Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee begin meeting sooner than is customary during a new Legislature in order to address this issue.

Democrats Legislative Priorities Begin to Emerge

Though the 126th Legislature has not yet been sworn in, there are some early indications of what may be on the legislative agenda in 2013. Obviously, balancing the current budget and the upcoming biennial budget will occupy a lot of the Legislature’s time next year. As part of these budget discussions, tax cuts enacted under the Republican-controlled 125th Legislature are very likely to be revisited. Also we anticipate the Democrats will want to re-visit the Legislature’s decision to remove some Mainer’s from MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, a proposal that is still in limbo before the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Health insurance will also be a key topic of debate in the 126th Legislature, with Democrats eyeing a revision of a Republican-supported overhaul of Maine’s health insurance market that was enacted last session. There is also interest by Democrats in the Legislature in establishing a health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that Governor LePage has indicated he does not support a state exchange. More generally, Democrats have indicated that education and workforce development issues will be on the legislative agenda next year.

Senator Rosen Selected for Administration Post

This week, the Governor’s Office announced that the Governor has selected termed-out Republican Senator Richard Rosen to lead the newly created Office of Policy and Management. Senator Rosen has served three terms in the House and four terms in the Senate. During the last two years of his legislative service, Senator Rosen Chaired the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

The Office of Policy and Management was created when the Legislature voted to abolish the State Planning Office and parcel out its various duties to other State agencies. This Office will likely work on budget-related matters and help formulate policy on matters that crosscut multiple State agencies.

New Republican Party Chairman to be Selected

The current Chairman of the Maine Republican Party, Charlie Webster, is not seeking another term as State Party Chair. His replacement will be selected on December 1st by the State Party Committee. There are two leading contenders for this position, former Representative Rich Cebra and former Representative Beth O’Connor. Governor LePage has endorsed Representative Cebra’s bid for this position. This race, however, appears to be a tossup. Whoever emerges as the next Chairman will have to develop a new strategy for this Party, which suffered some big losses from the top to the bottom of the ticket during this November’s elections.