Budget amendments cover familiar ground

Lawmakers have submitted more than 20 amendments for their colleagues to consider as the Maine House takes its first formal look at the two-year state budget deal Thursday afternoon.

Some are technical changes, but many cover familiar ground and mark final attempts by individual lawmakers to accomplish goals they outlined in unsuccessful legislation earlier this year.

Here are some highlights:

Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, has proposed five amendments, some of which were included in a budget plan he introduced earlier this month with 13 other conservative GOP lawmakers.

They would eliminate state Medicaid coverage for methadone-based treatments for drug addictions, cut $14 million annually from the budget of the state’s Office of Information Technology, and require the state provide services to people with developmental disabilities who are currently on waiting lists. He’s also proposing to eliminate clean elections funding — which has already been reduced in the budget proposal — and impose a 2 percent “economic crisis assessment” on large nonprofit organizations with more than $200,000 in annual receipts and more than $500,000 in assets.

Lockman proposed legislation earlier this year to eliminate MaineCare funding for methadone treatments, and the proposal failed in the Democratically controlled Legislature. The proposal to eliminate the state waiting list for services would cost more than $45 million annually. The wait list issue has been at the forefront of Republican opposition to expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to add the wait list funding to the Medicaid expansion bill.

An amendment from Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville, would remove $1.5 million from general purpose education aid and use the money to fund an education priority of Gov. Paul LePage’s: creating an Office of School Accountability and Support to target funding toward struggling schools. Appropriations Committee members removed LePage’s funding for that office and used it for general public school funding.

Assistant House Minority Leader Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, is proposing an amendment that would counteract a portion of a comprehensive energy bill that passed the House and Senate last week with broad support. His amendment would remove the Public Utilities Commission’s authority to levy a “systems benefit charge” on electric ratepayers that funds energy and conservation programs administered by the Efficiency Maine Trust. The energy efficiency portions of the bill rankled a number of Republicans and have been opposed by LePage.

Another Willette amendment proposes to eliminate MaineCare funding for transportation that allows patients to get to their methadone- and Suboxone-based treatments for drug addictions.

Also on the Republican side, Sen. Doug Thomas of Ripley proposes to remove about $75 million from revenue sharing with towns and cities and use it to increase the homestead exemption — which currently exempts the first $10,000 of residents’ property value from taxes — to $25,000 and reimburse municipalities for 100 percent, rather than the current 50 percent, of lost revenue.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, wants to raise the state sales tax to 6 percent — the budget would already push it to 5.5 percent for two years — and use the added revenue to increase revenue sharing payments for towns and cities. While the Appropriations Committee budget deal restores some revenue sharing funds, which LePage proposed to eliminate entirely, towns and cities would still sustain a cut.

Rep. Peter Stuckey, D-Portland, has an amendment that would accomplish the goals of a “tax fairness” bill submitted earlier this session by House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. The amendment would charge those making $250,000 and paying less than the statewide average effective tax rate an “equalization assessment” to bring their tax rate into line.

Also from the Democratic side, Rep. Andrew McLean of Gorham has an amendment that would raise the state’s $2-a-pack cigarette tax by 3 cents and use the revenue to fund the Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit program for small Maine businesses. Lawmakers previously rejected other attempts to raise tobacco taxes.