LePage’s tax and welfare priorities voted out of state budget

Good morning from Augusta, where some of the lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters are a little bleary-eyed after having spent the weekend at the State House awaiting progress on negotiations around the biennial state budget.

Last night’s budget hearing in the Appropriations Committee proved a truth that has been emerging for weeks: There is a major rift between House and Senate Republicans on the biennial state budget proposal. While Senate Republicans are very close to a deal with Democrats, the House GOP — or at least that caucus’ leaders — say they won’t support the budget unless it includes income tax cuts and Gov. Paul LePage’s welfare reform priorities. 

The stakes are high and the rhetoric is hot. Read my report on Sunday’s events by clicking here.

The budget will dominate the discussion under the dome today though the House and Senate will be busy with a range of matters this morning. The Appropriations Committee will convene this afternoon and likely work late into the evening — and possibly well into tomorrow — with the goal of finishing its work on the budget bill. –Christopher Cousins. 

LePage war against Democrats coming to Lisbon on Tuesday night

Despite the apparent failure of his tax reform plan, Gov. Paul LePage will continue a series of town hall-style meetings across Maine, including one Tuesday in Lisbon.

LePage has held several of these public forums in the past few months to rally support for his tax reform plan, which he admitted on Friday during a press conference is dead because of opposition by Democrats and Senate Republicans. In the same press conference, LePage said he will spend the remainder of his time as governor holding town hall-style meetings “to convince Maine people that the Democratic Party is not the party of the people.”

The basis of that argument will presumably focus on LePage’s continuing efforts to eliminate the Maine income tax, which generates about half of state government revenues, and Democrats’ position that doing so would devastate taxpayer-funded services such as schools.

LePage has a bill pending the Legislature to amend the Maine Constitution to eliminate the state income tax and has said that if the bill fails, he’ll spearhead a citizen petition to force it to the ballot. We can expect to hear a lot from the governor on that topic for a long time to come.

Tuesday’s forum begins at 6 p.m. at the Open Door Baptist Church at 26 Gartley Street in Lisbon.

Shenna Bellows: Woman of the Year

Emerge Maine, an organization committed to increasing the number of Democratic women in office, has named Shenna Bellows its 2015 Woman of the Year. Bellows, who is a product of the Emerge Maine program, is the first Emerge alumna to run for the U.S. Senate, according to Emerge Executive Director Jill Barkley. Bellows lost in her bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine last year.

“We were proud of the race [Bellows] ran, her commitment to championing progressive values, and all of her incredible advocacy work before and after the election,” said Barkley in a press release.

Bellows is now the owner of Bellows & Co., an advocacy, development and communications consulting firm. Bellows has been active and visible on the political scene in recent years, from her stint as director of American Civil Liberties Union of Maine to her leadership role of the 2012 ballot initiative that brought same-sex marriage to Maine.

Emerge Maine also named Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who is in her second House term, as a Rising Star in the Democratic Party.

Gideon and Bellows will receive their accolades Thursday evening during a reception at the Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta.

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Legislative time

Anyone who has spent any time with the Legislature is familiar with the term “legislative time.” Generally, you can add at least 20 or 30 minutes to the starting time of floor sessions or committee meetings, and often longer

The Appropriations Committee, which is grappling with the wide-ranging biennial budget proposal, takes “legislative time” to a new level.

For weeks, the committee has scheduled work sessions and going “on mic[rophone]” to take votes on various portions of the budget. Day after day, up until Friday, those work sessions were postponed at the 11th hour. On Sunday, there were hopes and for some, the expectation that the committee would close out the budget.

The hearing was called for 1 p.m., which is when reporters and lobbyists began to gather.

Then the committee clerk sent an email: “The committee will not be going on mic until at least 5 p.m. this evening.”

At about 6 p.m., a lawmaker told me negotiations were progressing well and to be ready at around 7 p.m. We waited.

When the gavel finally came down and the committee convened, it was 11:17 p.m.

“Sooo, said Sen. James Hamper, the committee’s chairman, as he opened the meeting and looked at the clock. “It is still May.”

If the meeting had been scheduled for June o’clock, we might’ve been waiting until August. — 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.