Daily Brief: Public weighs in on LePage budget; support for ranked-choice grows

Good morning from Augusta, where the Legislature’s budget negotiators will continue with open hearings on Gov. Paul LePage’s $6.57 billion budget proposal. 

Members of the Appropriations Committee will hear testimony from the general public today about LePage’s proposed elimination of state aid to municipalities, a program established to divert some income and sales tax revenue back to Maine’s towns and cities. Funding for the program has been slashed over the last several budget cycles, and local officials throughout Maine have decried the cuts. 

Yesterday, members of the Appropriations Committee heard testimony from the public and various interest groups about LePage’s planned 26.7 percent decrease in the individual tax rate and 24.4 percent reduction in the corporate tax rate, as well as the planned elimination of the estate, or inheritance, tax. 

At the outset of the hearing, just two people had signed up to testify in favor of the proposals. A lobbyist for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce said businesses need the lower taxes to recruit workers, while Maine Equal Justice Partners, a usual foil for LePage, supported to plan to expand the property tax fairness credit.

Meanwhile, 14 people had signed up to oppose various portions of the budget, including a lobbyist for Maine’s Realtors, the Maine AFL-CIO and some small business owners who said the sales tax increase would hurt them more than large, multi-state businesses. 

One example was a small coffee shop owner, who said a proposed 1.5. percent increase in the sales tax would affect 100 percent of his sales, but only a tiny portion of the total sales by Starbucks, with its thousands of cafes in every state and around the world. — Mario Moretto.

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Ranked-choice voting support grows

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, the group behind the push to establish instant runoff elections by public referendum, is busy building its coalition as it sets eyes on its 2016 campaign.

The group scored a victory this week, when the League of Women Voters of Maine came out in support of the referendum in an Op-Ed in the Kennebec Journal.

Campaigning for ranked-choice voting may well end up being a tricky endeavor. It’s likely each of the two major political parties will balk at the idea and invest party resources to defeat it. Plus, proponents of the plan will have to explain why a complicated new voting system is preferable to the simpler, winner-take-all system that’s currently in place.

But with vocal segments of the electorate feeling disenfranchised by the minority elections of Maine’s governors for the past several election cycles (remember the “61 percent” stickers?) there’s surely an audience out there for ranked-choice. A growing coalition can only help. — Mario Moretto.

State office building evacuated for burst pipe

The Cross Building, one of the main office buildings for state government, was evacuated yesterday afternoon after a pipe burst near the western entrance to the building.

At one point, a torrent of water was flowing in the foyer at that main entrance, pouring out down the steps and into the parking lot. The water seeped down one floor, where at least three of the State House press corps offices — including the BDN’s — saw water damage. — Mario Moretto

Reading list

Bad times for Burt

Anyone who watched “Burt’s Buzz,” the documentary about Burt’s Bees co-founder and Maine resident Burt Shavitz, likely fell at least a little in love, not only with Burt, but with the surprisingly rustic living he eked out in a small house in rural Maine.

Well, that home was “heavily damaged” by fire Monday, according to Guilford Fire Chief Jeff Libby. No one was injured in the fire, Libby said. — Mario Moretto.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.