Unhappy with LePage budget, Maine Democrats to unveil their own

Good morning from Augusta, where legislative Democrats are promising to unveil an alternative to Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal today as Republicans say they’re drawing a thick line on eliminating the voter-approved 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 to fund education.

This is becoming a regular piece of budget negotiations in Augusta: It’ll come just a shade under two years to the day since Democrats unveiled their “Better Deal for Maine,” which eschewed LePage’s income tax cuts for high earners, kept lower sales and meals tax rates and increased municipal funding.

LePage’s January budget proposal is similar to the one he released in 2015, but it could be argued that it’s less aggressive in the big picture, getting Maine to a flat 5.75 income tax, while only broadening and not raising the sales tax and making only a small corporate income tax cut.

Still, Democrats have stood firmly against many of the welfare changes in the Republican governor’s budget, including eliminating MaineCare eligibility for able-bodied parents who earn more than 40 percent of the federal poverty level and shortening the state’s five-year lifetime TANF limit to three years.

Clues on the plan to be unveiled Thursday can likely be found in the dense list of budget report-backs from various legislative committees to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, in which Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee oppose those welfare cuts, plus several other budget items.

Republicans are already signaling a tough budget stance, with Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, a budget committee member, saying yesterday in the State House hallway that the caucuses are as far apart on the budget as he’s ever seen. He said that the “line in the sand” for House Republicans is eliminating the new education surtax, which Democrats are holding to at least so far. 

Timberlake said his caucus could consider other increases in education funding, but they want the surtax gone even if budget negotiations last well into summer — which would mean a government shutdown unless some sort of temporary budget is passed because the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

“We’ll still be here in July or August because we won’t pass a budget,” he said.

Keep it tuned to bangordailynews.com for the details on Democrats’ proposal, to be released by their leaders at an 11:45 a.m. press conference. — Michael Shepherd

Bill could topple Maine from top campaign transparency spot

According to FollowTheMoney.org, Maine has the only perfect score in the country on the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ 2016 campaign contribution disclosure scorecard, but could fall to fifth with the passage of a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls.

LD 1033, which was introduced on March 27 to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and has not yet received a committee recommendation, removes the requirement that campaigns report expenditures within 24 hours after the 14th day before an election.

FollowTheMoney.org says since 2003, $16.8 million has been spent by candidates, parties and ballot measure committees in the two weeks preceding elections.

Without the 24-hour reporting cycle in 2016, for example, Mainers would not have known about $330,000 in contributions on both sides of Question 3, which sought to implement background checks for private gun sales, until well after the election. Mason argued in testimony that the 24-hour reporting period is burdensome and no longer necessary since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against matching funds in Maine’s clean elections system.

Jonathan Wayne, director of the Maine Ethics Commission, said in testimony that his staff supports cutting back on the 24-hour reporting requirement for candidates, PACs and political parties but urged lawmakers to consider the benefits to the press, the public and the political community before eliminating the requirement. He suggested consideration of implementing a higher dollar threshold to trigger the reporting. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin could be a key vote in Republicans’ next health care battle. As Republicans plot their course after pulling their health care reform bill from consideration last month, the Huffington Post placed Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, among a group of eight moderate Republicans who were at the White House on Monday for a meeting with White House officials who were on board with the past proposal “to make sure potential changes wouldn’t lose their votes.” However, potential changes could affect people with pre-existing conditions, protections for which are a key piece of the Affordable Care Act that Poliquin has supported while opposing the law overall. — Michael Shepherd
  • Lawmakers on the labor committee had a late night and early morning. Testimony on 10 bills having to do with Maine’s new minimum wage and tip credit law wrapped up at 12:50 a.m. today after starting Wednesday around 9 a.m., according to a tweet by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, a member of the Legislature’s labor committee. We don’t have a count on how many people offered testimony but there were at least 200 people who signed up to testify and likely more milling in the hall outside the committee room and listening in from overflow rooms. — Christopher Cousins
  • Mary Mayhew to tout after-school program investments. Mayhew, who is the commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, will host a news conference today to highlight the department’s efforts to prioritize the allocation of public resources on behalf of Maine teens. One example of that is a lifetime cap that has been put on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in recent years, which allowed for the creation of programs aimed directly at Maine youth. Mayhew’s news conference is scheduled to 2 p.m. at the My Place Teen Center at 755 Main St., Westbrook. — Christopher Cousins
  • A ‘downsizing’ Eliot Cutler is selling his Cape Elizabeth home for $11 million. The two-time independent gubernatorial candidate’s oceanfront home has eight bedrooms and eight full bathrooms with “architecturally distinguished museum quality appointments” with “breathtaking views, a private beach, separate four bedroom guest house, pool, tennis court and much more.” Cutler, who is now the CEO of the University of Maine System’s Professional and Graduate Center Initiative, said in an email that he’s “downsizing” and “certainly not financing another campaign!” — Michael Shepherd
  • The Blaine House food drive is this month. Gov. Paul LePage and his wife, Ann LePage, will open the Blaine House to the public on two consecutive Saturdays — April 15 and 22 — for the annual food drive they launched in 2011. Those who bring nonperishable food items for the Good Shepherd Food Bank will be greeted by the LePages and receive a tour of the Blaine House. The events are scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in this morning and you can see their calendars here and here. While you can’t count on anything happening in the Legislature until it happens — no matter what the daily calendars say — it looks like there could be an enactment vote in the House for LD 304, An Act to Authorize Auxiliary Liquor Licenses at Disc Golf Courses. In related news, the Daily Brief staff is thinking of forming a disc golf team.

The Senate could vote to enact LD 22, An Act to Repeal the Requirement that Municipalities License Roller-Skating Rinks. In related news, the Daily Brief staff can’t roller skate because we have to work tomorrow, even if we fall and shatter our elbows.

State Auditor Pola Buckley has notified the Legislature that she has completed the Single Audit of the State of Maine for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2016, as is required by the federal government. The audit is not yet posted on the auditor’s website with past years’ audits but Buckley wrote in the notice to the Legislature that Maine received $3 billion in federal financial assistance during fiscal year 2016.

In committees this afternoon, here are a few highlights:

Reading list

What should our epitaphs be?

We’re sorry to launch your day on a downer, but according to DaysOfTheYear.com, today is national Plan Your Epitaph Day. We don’t want you to miss any holidays, even if they’re not the kind that come with a day off.

We’re tempted to imagine some epitaphs for others — like “Wore Awesome Ties” for Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden — but that would be just morbid and wrong. So we’ll write our own. After yesterday’s Daily Brief you might think we’ll go with “Wasn’t Hugged on Hug a Newsperson Day” but we’re over that, sort of.

For Chris Cousins: “Made Great Quiche” or “Killed by Uncomfortable Sleeping Quarters on Scouting Trips.”

For Mike Shepherd: “This Story is Too Long” with some letters crossed out so it reads “Story Too Long.”

For Robert Long: “I never want to see another hyphen.”

Have you better suggestions? Let us know, but try not to be too mean. Of course, we’d all have MP3 players installed on our tombstones, looping our final soundtracks for eternity.  — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.