Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House

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

Legislature and Governor Reach Compromise to Pass Full Tax Conformity and Provide Additional Funding for Schools in Maine

On Wednesday, March 9, the Maine House and Senate enacted a bipartisan agreement on tax conformity legislation that aligns Maine’s tax code with some significant provisions of the federal tax code. The agreement was a hallmark moment for the Legislature this session, representing a compromise between the Republican Senate, the Democratic House, and the Governor. The agreement provides for full tax conformity that will permanently expand the current section 179 deduction limits to $500,000 and enacts Maine’s own version of bonus depreciation called the Maine Capital Investment Credit. This credit will now be available until 2019, and is equal to 9% for taxable corporations, 8% for individuals in 2015, and 7% for individuals in 2016. As part of the agreement, the House and Senate also passed a separate bill, LD 1641, which provides an additional $15 million in funding for education over the next year. This school funding bill also establishes a Blue Ribbon Commission to study school funding challenges in Maine. Both the tax conformity legislation, and the school funding legislation, were signed by the Governor on Wednesday and immediately became public law. 

Governor LePage Nominates New and Active Retired Judges

On Tuesday, March 8, Governor Paul LePage announced the nomination of three lawyers to serve as judges in the Maine Superior and District Courts, and three Active Retired Judges for the Maine Superior and District Courts. Attorney Harold Stewart II was nominated to serve as a Superior Court Justice, and attorneys Deborah Cashman and Patrick Larson were nominated to serve in the District Court. The Honorable Allen Hunter was nominated to serve as an Active Retired Justice in the Maine Superior Court, and the Honorable E. Paul Eggert and Honorable Keith Powers were nominated to serve as Active Retired Judges in the District Court. The Judiciary Committee will hold public hearings on the nominees in the next few weeks.

Maine Business Day at the Legislature Brings Wide Range of Maine Businesses to State House

On Thursday, March 10, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Business Day in the Hall of Flags at the Maine State House. This popular event is an opportunity for a wide variety of Maine businesses to showcase their products and services and discuss business issues with members of the Legislature. About a dozen businesses hosted booths including Backyard Farms, Bath Iron Works, Cianbro, IDEXX, Poland Spring, and Texas Instruments. 

Maine Senate Republicans and Democrats Hold Special Election Fundraisers in Augusta

Both the Maine Senate Democrats and the Maine Senate Republicans are holding fundraisers in Augusta in advance of the upcoming special election for a vacant Senate seat in District 32 that includes Biddeford, Alfred, Arundel, Dayton, Kennebunkport, and Lyman. The seat was vacated after Representative David Dutremble, a Democrat, resigned in January for personal reasons. The election is set for March 29, and will see Republican Stephen Paul Martin pitted against Democrat Susan Deschembault. Senate District 32 has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, but the Republicans indicated at their fundraiser on Wednesday that they feel good about their chances of picking up a Republican seat in the Senate during this race. Fundraisers are not generally permitted while the Legislature is in session, but the special election has afforded both sides a rare opportunity to raise funds during the Legislative season.

Solar Power Expansion Bill Introduced in the Legislature  

On Thursday, March 10, a bill designed to expand solar power development in Maine was introduced pursuant to a Resolve that was enacted last session. The bill is titled, An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development.  Among other concepts, the bill includes language regarding net-metering, which allows for customers with solar panels to pay only for the net amount of electricity they buy each month, meaning that they pay for what they consume minus what they generate into the grid. The bill as drafted would allow net metering to remain in effect for two years, but the duration of net metering is expected to be a major point of discussion among the interested stakeholders. The bill is tentatively set for public hearing on Wednesday, March 16, at 1:00 p.m. in the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee room in the Cross Office Building adjacent to the State House. Some are wondering whether this room will be large enough to accommodate the number of people who are anticipated to attend.