Dems expected to reveal tax, budget plan today to compete with LePage’s

Good morning from snowy Augusta, where lawmakers will be wearing out their arms by casting dozens of votes. With a directive from legislative leaders for committees to vote out 60 percent of their bills for the session by the end of the day Friday, today has probably the busiest committee schedule so far this year. With the House and Senate both in session this morning, none of it begins until 1 p.m.

You can see the list for yourself by clicking here, but I’ll pull out a few highlights. 

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, where the bills are almost always interesting, will be working on measures involving rabbit farming, aerial pesticide spraying, the use of service animals and controlling the spruce budworm epidemic. 

The Education Committee will make recommendations on several bills that seek to lower education costs, as well as what would be a transformational proposal by veteran lawmaker Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, to create a unified board of higher education to oversee both the university and community college systems. The bill faces considerable barriers and probably won’t make it to enactment, but it represents an attempt to accomplish many of higher education’s goals, from better utilizing public funding to creating a seamless credit transfer system for students. 

The Environment and Natural Resources Committee has been working on the development of large-scale mining rules and might finally make recommendations. This has been a debate that’s gone on for years, and was started over again by lawmakers last year when the Department of Environmental Protection brought forward rules that the majority of the Legislature found to be lacking in adequate financial and environmental protections. 

The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will consider making recommendations on an amendment to the Maine Constitution to protect the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. There are two bills trying to accomplish that, but if either of them makes it out of the State House, a successful statewide referendum would have to follow. 

The Judiciary Committee will consider what has become an annual debate in Augusta: whether to ban the United Nations Agenda 21, which is a worldwide movement toward environmental and economic sustainability. Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman, who sponsored LD 161, would like to put an end to that possibility. 

The so-called Jobs Committee will likely make recommendations on two bids to boost the pay for workers under certain circumstances and a bill to protect earned pay by Rep. Eric Herbig, D-Belfast. The committee will also consider a bill to expand access to long-term antibiotic regimens for victims of Lyme disease

The Taxation Committee considers competing proposals to create a sales tax holiday in Maine — which means a day when we can all go buy up goods and avoid the taxes. In the Transportation Committee, they’re considering bills that would extend the time between motor vehicle inspections, perhaps to two years, as well as some bills involving freight transport by trains.

Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, is hoping for a positive recommendation from the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on her bill to strengthen the right of sexual assault or domestic violence victims to take employment leave. 

Daughtry also has a bill under consideration in the Education Committee today that would provide for a later starting time for high schools, which for me is about 25 years late. Sigh. — Christopher Cousins 

Dems promise ‘major announcement’

Democratic legislative leaders will gather at 1 p.m. today in the Cony High School library in Augusta for what is being characterized as a “major tax and budget policy announcement.” They have chosen the library because, they claim, the Augusta School District will lose $1 million annually if Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal makes it to enactment.

Lawmakers have had LePage’s proposal under a magnifying glass for months and several legislative committee have made recommendations that whittle away at it. The core of the budget proposal is LePage’s tax reform package, which seeks to lower the tax burden on all Mainers by more than $250 million over the next two years, primarily by lowering the income tax rate.

Democrats and some Republicans argue that the plan is too favorable to the rich and shifts far too much of the expense of public services to the property tax. They also fret about how LePage’s plan will or won’t decimate state and local public services beginning two years from now when the tax cuts are fully in place.

Just a guess here, but they’ll probably use today’s press conference to unveil their own tax reform proposal which softens the blow on property taxes and makes adjustments to the sales and income tax lines that would move the whole package toward being more revenue neutral (in other words, reining back the income tax cut). We’ll see. — Christopher Cousins

In presidential election ‘news’

I know, I know, the presidential election is still two years away. Two Republicans have already begun their campaigns in earnest. The Democrats are holding their fire on declaring candidates — which would be awkward with the sitting president a Dem — though most everyone expects the nominee to be Hillary Clinton.

A new Gallup poll indicates that Clinton has some work to do if she’s to be victorious. The poll found that her favorability rating has eroded from 59 percent in February 2014 to 48 percent today. That’s the weakest favorability rating for Clinton since 2008.

Why does it matter? If another Democrat is to emerge as a serious contender in the presidential race, he or she would take advantage of poll results like these. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

What we look like = political ideology?

The BDN’s Pattie Reaves launched a quiz at yesterday that asks participants to guess what political party people belong to based solely on what they look like. I took the quiz and managed to guess five of eight correctly. “Pretty smaht,” I’m told by the quiz.

I demand a recount. There’s no way a libertarian would wear a cheetah print. — 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.