Competing bills around the $38 million ‘and’ typo up for hearings today in Augusta

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage is once again driving the conversation around the elimination of the income tax by 2020.

The governor took the unusual step Tuesday of publicly giving legislative leaders until the end of the day to sponsor his bill to amend the collection of income taxes out of the Maine Constitution or not. It amounts to a political stunt that does little other than let Republicans and Democrats draw proverbial lines in the sand, which is what they were forced to do with GOP leaders giving the plan a nod and Democrats backing away.

Still, with a bill in the pipeline and Republicans showing early support for it, the proposal is very real and from here on out will influence every conversation on every bill that has anything to do with state spending. Can Maine afford it?

While the conversation about Maine’s long-term future unfolding on one hand, unraveling some of LePage’s past initiatives continues on the other.

The Education Committee is considering a bill from Democratic Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco that would eliminate LePage’s A-through-F school grading system and another from Republican Rep. Carol McElwee of Caribou would put a two-year delay on the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers. Both concepts were the subjects of hard-fought partisan battles during LePage’s first term.

In the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, the first stage of what is expected to be a protracted battle will unfold with public hearings on competing bills introduced last month around the infamous case of the missing $38 million “and” in an energy bill passed last session. Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon of Freeport is proposing a bill to simply fix the typo while House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport — and by extension, LePage — is proposing to do the same thing while attaching the creation of a new department of energy. There seemed to be little support out of the gate for Fredette’s bill; today’s hearings could provide a clearer picture of who will follow Fredette and LePage and who won’t.

The Taxation Committee will spend the morning in work sessions on several bills related to easing the tax burden on farmers and commercial wood harvesters, and the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will consider a bill by Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, that would outlaw the use of foreign workers for wood harvesting operations on publicly owned lands. Meanwhile, the Legislature awaits the introduction of a bill expected from the LePage administration that would expand timber harvests on public lands and use the proceeds to fund a new energy initiative related to heat pumps.

The Criminal Justice Committee is poised to make recommendations on Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau’s bill to require drunk drivers to pay for emergency response costs if they have an accident as well as a bill to prohibit the trafficking of humans. Later in the day, the same committee will hold somber public hearings on several bills that would strengthen penalties on a range of sexual predators, including a bid by Fredette to outlaw “revenge porn,” which are sexually explicit materials posted or broadcast of a person, usually by an ex, without his or her consent. 

The Judiciary Committee has a full afternoon of public hearings scheduled around bills that would affect property foreclosures while the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee could make recommendations on a range of bills related to the regulation of alcoholic beverages, including one that would prohibit the sale and possession of powdered alcohol in Maine.

There are dozens of bills I’ve skimmed over here, including many major ones and undoubtedly a few that you care about. You can see the full list here if you’re interested. — Christopher Cousins

Who is spending the most on federal-level lobbying?

Answer: The Chamber of Commerce of the U.S.A. According to an analysis of recent federal lobbying disclosure filings by a nonpartisan organization called MapLight, the chamber spent some $13.8 million on lobbying between Jan. 1 and March 31 of this year. An affiliated group, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, spent another $5.7 million on Capitol Hill during the first quarter of 2015.

If you still have any doubts about the flow of corporate cash in our political process, here is the top-10 list:

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 7.07.00 AM

Maine’s connection to Earth Day

Today marks the 45th annual celebration of Earth Day, which started with a major rally on April 22, 1970, to call attention to the environment and pollution. Ten thousand people flocked to the Washington Monument to see musician Pete Seeger and then-U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine on a stage talking and singing about the lakes and forests.

According to an NBC News report, the president of the Earth Day Network says Earth Day is the largest secular event in the world with more than 1 billion participants from 192 countries.

What are you going to do to celebrate the Earth today? — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

5 times Maine animals were jerks

I owe a heavy assist to the BDN’s Dan MacLeod here. It all started with a beaver gnawing a tree, which caused a widespread power outage in Aroostook County.

“It’s the latest example of how our well-designed civilization can come crashing to a halt thanks to just one furry creature,” writes MacLeod before detailing havoc caused by bees, a rooster, bobcats and moose.

Good stuff. Check it out, even if you disagree that humankind is a “well-designed civilization.” — 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.