Daily Brief: Democrats go on full attack against LePage budget

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the capitol city, where everyone’s just a wee bit Irish for a day. I can’t wait to see what’s for lunch at the usually festive Cross Cafe. In case you didn’t know, the cafe is open to the public and represents one of the best meal bargains in Augusta.

Remember the train bills from last week, which sought to establish major funding for projects present and future? They’re back, this time for possible committee recommendation votes before moving up the line to the full House and Senate. With a $1 million price tag on a bill that calls for engineering, design and environmental assessment work on the tracks between Yarmouth Junction and Auburn, the fate of this bill will give an early indication of the Legislature’s and governor’s appetite for investments in rail when state revenues are as tight. 

The Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Committee will consider making recommendations on some hunting-related bills, including one that would allow the use of crossbows near buildings and another that would create a youth bear hunting day. The latter bill is interesting because it works against the tide of recent bear hunting-related initiatives, including two failed referendums to ban certain kinds of bear hunting.

Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, will introduce a bill today that would have a direct practical impact on homeowners. LD 569 would require insurance companies to cover flood damages caused by municipal water and sewer lines, whether or not a home is in a flood zone. DeChant said there have been numerous examples of this kind of flood in Bath, which like many Maine towns and cities has pipes in the ground that date back, in some cases, a century or more. 

The House and Senate will hold sessions this morning, as well as Wednesday and Thursday. The flow of bills out of committees is at full strength at this point, which means we’ll start to see some debates on the third floor of the State House. 

Elsewhere, a group called Maine Children for Cannabis Therapy will be lobbying and spreading information in the Hall of Flags, as will the Dementia Care Coalition of Southern Maine/Memory Works. — Christopher Cousins

Dems go on the attack against LePage

The debate around Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget and the sweeping tax reform proposal contained within it is just beginning. Talk around the budget has been eerily quiet for weeks as both parties have sought to sort out their path forward in dealing with it. Republicans have voiced tepid support at best, and whispered in back chambers that the tax increases it contains would make it difficult for them to push the green button at their desks instead of the red one when it’s time to vote. Democrats, some of whom have voiced some support for the plan, have now answered the question of what the party line will be in the coming months. Expect their mantra to be: LePage is seeking, once again, to let high-earners reap most of the benefits from a wide-ranging income tax cut.

Democratic lawmakers and the Maine Democratic Party released a blitz of press statements Monday all with the same message: If you make $40,000 a year, your tax cut under the LePage plan will be approximately $145 a year by 2019. If you make more than $400,000 annually, you can expect a tax cut of nearly $10,700.

“No politician should defend giving $10,000 to people who make more than $400,000 per year while working families send their kids to school hungry and seniors can’t afford their prescription drugs,” said Bangor Democratic Rep. Adam Goode, House chairman of the Taxation Committee, in a written statement. “It’s a matter of fairness.”

The Democrats, citing data from Maine Revenue Services, further allege that LePage’s budget would push $48 million per year onto property taxpayers by requiring them to pick up more of the cost of public education.

Republicans will have their own set of numbers in the coming days and chances are, there will be elements of truth in all of them. The problem is, even the administration has a difficult time estimating the impact of some of the package’s major elements because those estimates rely on questionable or just plain unavailable data. No one, for example, can put a number on how much towns and cities would benefit from taxing large nonprofit organizations because those entities have never been taxed nor valued for taxes

Regardless, Monday’s salvos, which come as the Taxation Committee is nearing initial recommendations on the LePage budget, show that Democrats are trying to win the narrative and ultimately, the backing of their constituents.

New BMV office in Topsham

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced Monday that a new Topsham Bureau of Motor Vehicles office is now open at 125B Main Street, not far from the previous location at the Topsham Fair Mall.

The BMV’s Topsham location has proven popular in the years it has been in operation, probably because of its location in a populated area and just off Interstate 295. Make a note of this news so that next time you realize your license is expiring today, you won’t have trouble finding the place to renew it. The branch phone number at the Topsham BMV is 725-6520. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

‘Monopoly Millionaires’ Club’

Over the weekend, a teacher from Edgecomb won a $1 million Global Teacher Prize, which was a recognition of her decades-long career as an educator, which included the founding of a renowned school in the Mid-coast.

Now, a business owner from Rangeley, Lynn Soriano Noyes, could match that cash haul in an hour playing on a new gameshow called the Monopoly Millionaires’ Club, which aires at 6 p.m. March 29 on WFPO-Fox 23 and again on the Game Show Network on Tuesday, March 31, at 8 p.m.

“Offering heart-pounding action and big-money prizes throughout, the show culminates with one player moving around a larger-than-life Monopoly game board on a quest for $1 million,” reads a press release from the Maine Lottery, which is sponsoring the show.

There are two groups of people in the world: Those who love Monopoly and those who fall asleep all over Park Place before they ever pass go and collect their $200. I, for one, have never found the game heart-pounding, but the show might be different. After all, there’s another gameshow, Deal or No Deal, where contestants merely open a series of briefcases, hoping the final one, by chance, is worth the full million.

Exciting stuff? Maybe. But then again, I’m not really a gameshow guy. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.