Remember today. In six weeks, if a legislative impasse is threatening a government shutdown, we may look back on this as the day the war started.
As reported Thursday by Scott Thistle of the Sun Journal, a group of legislative Republicans is finally poised to push back against Gov. Paul LePage on his tax reform proposal and goal of eventually eliminating the Maine income tax. The plan carries more weight because it was developed with Appropriations Committee Republicans at the forefront, but is unlikely to have the support of the entire caucus. That’s primarily because it calls for a much smaller income tax cut than LePage is advocating for and it preserves more than $60 million a year in municipal revenue sharing, which LePage has been trying to eliminate since at least 2012.
Nothing is certain until it’s certain, but the plan could be presented today to the Appropriations Committee.
This was the second major body blow to LePage’s tax plan this week. On Wednesday, Democrats and one independent on the Taxation Committee led a 7-5 vote against LePage’s bill to ask voters statewide whether they want to eliminate the income tax altogether. The opposition was mostly because of the fact that doing so would eliminate some $1.7 billion a year in revenues to the state, which without other adjustments to create more revenue, amounts to about half of the state budget.
It wouldn’t surprise me much to see another Republican tax reform proposal emerge to compete with the first Republican proposal, the Democrats’ proposal and LePage’s. Given the splintering of support and the significant disagreements on some of the big pieces, it’s starting to feel like tax reform efforts in Augusta could be scuttled again.
The governor, who has been traveling all over Maine soliciting support for his income tax plan and who has already threatened to campaign against legislative Republicans who don’t follow his lead, has a lot on the line here. Expect an angry response.
With the House and Senate on recess until Tuesday, today’s committee schedule is light but interesting.
Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta will present a bill to the Health and Human Services Committee this morning that would allow terminally ill patients to give themselves medications that would hasten their death. This is not a proposal to allow a physician or anyone other than the patient to end a person’s life, though it protects health care workers, their liability insurance companies and the patient’s life insurance policy. The bill states explicitly that the patient must self-administer the life-ending drugs.
The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will consider making recommendations on a handful of bills related to campaign finance reform and gaming, and the Appropriations Committee will continue work on the biennial budget. — Christopher Cousins
Large-scale mining rules sputtering
The Environment and Natural Resources Committee has been working on the development of large-scale metallic mining rules since January. And that was after two years of work on the rules by the Department of Environmental Protection that were rejected by the Legislature last year behind concerns that they were too weak on groundwater protections and didn’t go far enough to financially guarantee that mining sites would be cleaned up after closure.
On Thursday, the committee finally took a vote on the rules it’s been developing for months, and the vote was ought not to pass. A statement by Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan on Thursday indicated that McCabe and others still don’t think the rules do enough to protect the environment.
“These rules will have a high hurdle to clear in the House,” said McCabe.
What does this mean for commercial mining in Maine? It’s a serious blow against the concept, but almost anything could happen between now and the end of the session, including another stalemate. Stay tuned. — Christopher Cousins
Judicial confirmations delayed
The Senate was scheduled to vote on confirmations for two judicial nominations by LePage on Thursday, but it never happened. Read a report about it from the BDN’s Judy Harrison.
Earlier this week, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee endorsed both Jeffrey H. Moskowitz of Saco as a district court judge and William R. Anderson of Morrill as a superior court judge.
The conflict maybe around Moskowitz, who made national headlines earlier this year when he tried and failed to order the Portland Press Herald from reporting on a public proceeding. Despite that, he was lauded in the committee process.
There’s no word yet on when the confirmations will come up again but the BDN will keep you posted. — Christopher Cousins
Poliquin plucks LePage loyalist
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District announced today that he has hired Samantha Warren as his Lewiston-based district director.
Warren has developed as one of the public faces of state government in recent years. She was most recently the director of communications for the Department of Education and before that, the Department of Environmental Protection. She is also known for her years as a journalist prior to joining state government, at the Rangeley Highlander, the Lewiston Sun Journal and the Livermore Falls Advertiser.
My personal take on Warren — which I venture to say is shared by others — is that she was one of the most aggressive and toughest spokespeople in state government in recent years. Though her tone with reporters was sometimes abrasive, she was always well-researched, accessible and she demonstrated a broad working knowledge of policy and politics.
According to Poliquin spokesman Michael Byerly, Warren’s hire completes staffing of Poliquin’s field offices in Lewiston, Bangor and Presque Isle.
- Leaked Republican tax plan falls short of LePage’s goal — Scott Thistle, Sun Journal
- U.S. House passes Iran nuclear review legislation — Patricia Zengerle, Reuters
- Bangor passenger rail inches forward in Legislature — Christopher Cousins, BDN
- 5 ways to get veterans the help the really need — Erin Rhoda, BDN
- Maine Senate puts off vote on judge who issued gag order on press — Judy Harrison, BDN
- US News & World Report rankings used inaccurate data for Maine schools — Nick McCrea, BDN
- (This might save your life) Don’t chase bears with dull hatchets if you’re drunk — John Holyoke, BDN
We lost an American treasure today. News spread this morning that blues legend B.B. King died at his Las Vegas home at age 89. Born in Mississippi, King started performing in the 1940s and became one of the greatest blues guitarists of all times. His influence on music probably can’t be overstated. He was one of my father’s favorites and a soundtrack of my upbringing.
Here’s one of my favorite B.B. songs, which seems appropriate this morning. It’s called “The Thrill is Gone.”
“Now that it’s all over,” sings King, “all I can do is wish you well.” — Christopher Cousins