Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House 7.25.14

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

Immigration Issue has Maine Impact

In recent months, a federal political issue has developed regarding undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States.  This week, it was revealed that this issue touches on Maine, when Governor LePage was notified by the White House that eight unaccompanied immigrant children have been placed with Maine families.  This federal issue has now taken on state implications, as various policymakers have reacted to this news.  Governor LePage has expressed concerns regarding lack of transparency from the federal government on this issue and regarding costs the State may have to bear.     

Order of Bond Questions on November Ballot Set

This week, the Secretary of State determined, by lottery, the order of the bond questions that will appear on November’s ballot.  There is one referendum question this year related to bear hunting, which is Question 1.  This question will be followed by:

    • Question 2:  $8 million to create an animal and plant disease and insect control facility at the University of Maine
    • Question 3:  $12 million for loans to small businesses to be administered by the Finance Authority of Maine
    • Question 4:  $10 million to expand genetic and biometric research capabilities at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor
    • Question 5:  $3 million for biotechnology workforce training at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory
    • Question 6:  $10 million for water-related projects
    • Question 7:  $7 million for capital investments to facilitate the growth of marine businesses to be administered by the Department of Economic and Community Development  

Nursing Home Funding Identified 

Since the Legislature adjourned, there were rumblings in Augusta that Governor LePage, unsatisfied with the resolution of the issue of funding for nursing homes, was interested in convening the Legislature for a Special Session.  A Special Session is likely no longer on the table, as Governor LePage announced last week that additional funding for nursing homes has been identified.  Past underpayment of Medicaid reimbursements by the State to nursing homes created a roughly $30 million hole in nursing home budgets.  Governor LePage identified Medicaid savings that could be used to help fill this hole, along with federal matching dollars.  This new funding, along with funding already included in the state budget, will provide over $25 million this current fiscal year to help close the gap in nursing home budgets.   

Minimum Wage Proposal Taking Shape in Portland 

Portland’s Mayor Brennan is beginning to solicit comments on a plan to increase the minimum wage in the City to $10.68 per hour by January 1, 2017.  This would be an increase over the current State-mandated minimum wage of $7.50.  The Mayor’s plan would have to be adopted by the City Council and proceed through the regular public process before it would be effective. 

While these reports are primarily focused on legislative developments at the state level, this minimum wage proposal is worth noting because of its potential effects on this issue state-wide.  Further, this proposal is indicative of a recent trend of Maine municipalities becoming involved in policy matters that traditionally may be viewed as state-level issues, such as the recent oil sands ban in South Portland and Portland’s adoption of a polystyrene ban and a plastic and paper bag tax.  This may be a coincidence or this may be a symptom of having divided government in both Washington and Augusta, and those seeking policy change looking to the level of government that can implement change.