Lawmakers defy LePage, add $50 million to public school funding

Good morning from Augusta. If you’re a student, teacher, principal, superintendent, school board member, property tax payer or anyone who favors more funding for public schools, you have reason to celebrate today. 

If you’re a fiscal conservative who thinks education budgets are bloated and state-level taxes are too high, you’re probably angry and hanging your head


The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee voted Monday evening to add a whopping $50 million to general purpose aid for public schools over the next two years. Republicans and Democrats on the Legislature’s Education Committee split on their recommendation about how much school funding should increase for the next two years. Republicans recommended $25 million; Democrats recommended $50 million. Those amounts were above and beyond Gov. Paul LePage’s recommendation of a $20 million increase. 

On Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee voted 9-4 in favor of a $50 million increase, which will bring annual state education funding to the neighborhood of $985 million a year. That’s good news for property tax payers and for towns that have already held town meetings and set their budgets based on assumptions of a meager funding increase for schools, they could be looking at a surplus. 

Education funding experts would tell you that the cost of education in Maine — accounting for contracted salary increases, overhead and other rising costs that are all set in law in the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding formula — will go up by about $68 million next year. The suggested increase, plus LePage’s $20 million increase, brings Maine closer that number. 

CORRECTION (12 p.m., June 2): An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly stated that the Appropriations Committee voted for a $50 million annual increase. The preliminary vote of the committee was for $50 million over the biennium, including $19.5 million from the General Fund and $11 million of redirected money. 

But don’t pop the corks yet or if you want smaller government, don’t give up. This budget negotiation is becoming highly contentious and House Republicans in particular are not pleased with the way it’s going. They said in a press conference on Monday that they are prepared to scuttle it if appropriators don’t revisit the issue of cutting the income tax and enacting some of LePage’s welfare reform goals.

The opposition appears to be holding together. The four House Republicans on the Appropriations committee — Reps. Jeff Timberlake of Turner, Tom Winsor of Norway, Robert Nutting of Oakland and Heather Sirocki of Scarborough — voted against the increase, just as they have become unified against the direction the budget is going on several other votes

The Appropriations Committee, now one day beyond its goal of finishing the budget votes by Monday, will continue its work today. If momentum doesn’t change soon, this budget will become a game of chicken when it reaches the House floor. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport and Assistant Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester don’t look like they’re going to flinch. 

The budget committee also took numerous other votes last night. If you want to peruse all of them, I can think of no more comprehensive source than Bill Brown’s budget blog. Brown works for Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves but as you’ll see, his blog is for the most part devoid of partisanship and he details EVERY SINGLE VOTE. It’s a go-to resource for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

What else is on the Legislature’s agenda today? Stay tuned. The House and Senate are holding double sessions but for the most part, legislative leaders don’t settle on what they’ll debate until later this morning. — Christopher Cousins

Bruce Poliquin put ‘on notice’

As if U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, needed any reminder, there are major forces running against his re-election in 2016. EMILY’S List, a powerful and well-resourced national organization that works to support women in politics, announced Monday that it has put Poliquin “On Notice” for 2016.

Organization President Stephanie Schriock said Poliquin earned his spot on this loss for voting for a national abortion ban, refusing to support marriage equality, and other issues.


That means he’s one of a list of incumbent Republicans in Congress and elsewhere that EMILY’S List is trying to defeat. In 2014, EMILY’s List stood behind 2nd Congressional District Democratic candidate Emily Cain, who ended up losing badly to Poliquin in a race that included independent conservative Blaine Richardson. There was no mention of Cain, who has already launched her rematch with Poliquin, in a press release circulated by EMILY’s List on Monday.

That doesn’t mean Cain won’t again be backed by the organization. There’s a lot of time between now and the next congressional election. — Christopher Cousins

Veto watch

Gov. Paul LePage issued four vetoes on Monday.

  • LD 382, An Act to Eliminate Certain Fees for Security Freezes and Allow Security Freezes for Minors, sponsored by Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan. The bill was intended to eliminate fees charged by credit reporting agencies when a consumer requests a security freeze — basically a credit block — and allows parents and guardians to place freezes on minors under age 16. “I do not believe it is appropriate for government to require a private enterprise to provide a services for no charge,” wrote LePage in his veto letter.
  • LD 556, An Act to Require Public Schools to Offer Instruction Related to Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and the Use of an Automated External Defibrillator, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta. The bill requires public schools to train students how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use automated external defibrillators. LePage wrote in his veto letter that he supports widespread training of the use of such life-saving techniques but sees this bill as an unfunded mandate on schools. The fiscal note on this bill says that the training could be done within schools’ existing resources, with training and equipment provided through the American Heart Association.
  • LD 699, An Act to Update Maine Law to Conform to New Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration Regulations, sponsored by Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast. The bill requires the Maine Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Standards, to adopt certain death and injury reporting requirements of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, by July 1. Failure to do so, according to the bill, would result in a loss of federal reimbursements. LePage wrote that Maine needs to wean itself from federal funding. “These conformity laws do nothing more than add red tape and behold us to the bureaucratic mess that is Washington D.C.,” wrote LePage.
  • LD 1210, Resolve Directing the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation to Study the Dental Practice Laws and Recommend Changes to Streamline the Licensure and Scope of Practice Provisions, sponsored by Rep. Heather Sirocki of Scarborough. This bill does just as the title suggests. LePage wrote that he vetoed it, even though he agrees with what the law wants to do, because it demands a study by the executive branch. “The Legislature need only have asked, and I would have agreed to help,” wrote LePage.

One interesting thing about these four vetoes is that three of them were of Republican-sponsored bills, including one from Sirocki, who is among LePage’s closest allies right now on the Appropriations Committee. Less than a week ago during a press conference at the Blaine House, LePage proclaimed that he would veto every single Democratic bill that comes across his desk unless the Legislature agrees to his plan to launch a referendum that aims to eliminate the income tax. LePage said he’d vetoed several Democratic bills last Friday morning, but so far they have not been delivered to the Legislature.

Reading list

Miss Maine America’s heart-rending project for sick kids

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Monday that she has invited Kelsey Earley of Lebanon to Washington, D.C. Earley was crowned Miss Maine by the Miss Maine Scholarship Program in April, which qualifies the young woman for the national competition in September.

That’s all great, but it was Earley’s platform that caught my eye and my heart: “Be a Superhero.” Earley, currently a junior in the University of New England’s dental hygienist program, makes superhero capes for children who are fighting illness or living with disabilities. She has made more than 100 of them and donated them to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland.

Spend the next five seconds thinking about someone entering a hospital room and telling a young kid that he or she is a superhero. If that doesn’t warm your heart, nothing will. — Christopher Cousins

Kelsey Earley of Lebanon with Sen. Susan Collins. photo courtesy of Susan Collins

Kelsey Earley of Lebanon with Sen. Susan Collins. photo courtesy of Susan Collins

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.