AUGUSTA — There’s a place where bills go to die.
It’s called the Special Appropriations Table.
“The table” as it’s commonly called, is often the kiss of death – and legislators go to great lengths to avoid having their bills end up there.
Bills that go to the table have been approved in the House and Senate, but they cost money. So, before the final Senate vote, they get sent to the table.
They sit there – nearly 30 awaited action last week – until the Appropriations Committee has a chance to review them and decide if there’s any money to pay for them.
The committee took action on about a third of them Friday, with other bills in the hopper expected to be sent to the table.
Bills awaiting final action:
• A request for $10,000 to recapitalize the Maine Downtown Center.
• A request for more than $80,000 to cover the costs of giving the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians a representative in the House.
Currently, the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe each have nonvoting members present in the chamber, and this would add a third tribal representative. The cost estimate includes $45,000 to renovate the House chamber to make room for an additional person and costs associated with paying the representative, according to the state fiscal office.
• A request to exempt from Maine sales tax all nonresident purchases of watercraft, which would reduce state revenue by an estimated $500,000 a year.
• Establishment of the Residential Wood Stove Replacement Fund, which would cost $2.5 million a year. The money would be used to provide incentives to people to replace old wood stoves with models that don’t emit as much pollution.
Appropriations Committee House Chairwoman Emily Cain, D-Orono, said it’s often difficult to decide what gets funded and what doesn’t, especially because the measures usually come with strong support.
This year, in particular, the committee is directing an eye toward the future because of an anticipated large funding gap for the next two year budget cycle.
“It’s not always just about does it feel good or not,” she said.
Michael Heath, former executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, announced recently he’s starting a new group called the American Family Association of Maine.
His news release – under the headline “He’s back” – says Heath wants to get back into public life to “fight against the gay rights lobby.”
He’ll also be focused on the Maine Human Rights Commission and its efforts to give guidance to schools about bathroom use for transgendered students.
The American Family Association is a national group started 30 years ago by a United Methodist minister. Heath is starting the first Maine affiliate. You can find out more at www.afa.net/
FREE AT LAST
The Tax Foundation calculates that Maine’s Tax Freedom Day was Sunday, 94 days into the new year.
Tax Freedom Day is when you have worked long enough to to pay your federal, state and local taxes, according to the foundation.
Maine comes in a few days ahead of the national average, which is 99 days this year. The foundation says Americans will pay more in taxes in 2010 than they will spend on food, clothing and shelter combined.
For more depressing news, go to www.taxfoundation.org.
SPEAKING OF TAXES
An omnibus tax bill pending in the Senate that seeks to make several changes to the tax code has a little something in it that may surprise supporters of medical marijuana.
The Taxation Committee decided to make it clear to Maine Revenue Services that medical marijuana is not a prescription drug, and should therefore be taxed at the 5 percent sales tax rate. That means medical marijuana dispensaries that will likely open later this year would be responsible for collecting the tax, said Tax Committee House Chairman Thom Watson, D-Bath.
That tax is expected to bring in about $71,000 a year.
The medical marijuana bill – separate from the tax bill – passed in the Senate on an initial vote Friday and next will be taken up in the House.
FRUSTRATION IN HOUSE
Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, told his House colleagues last week he was disappointed that Democrats cheered after someone made an announcement that “we now had national health care.”
“It was the raucous display that followed that bothered me,” he said. “It cut me like a knife.”
He said that same day, his 87-year-old mother was undergoing treatment in a hospital.
“It is my sincere belief that if nationalized, socialized health care had been in place, my mother would have been judged too old to receive the extensive testing she received,” he said.
MUSEUM LECTURE TUESDAY
The Maine State Museum will host a talk at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday by curators Bruce Bourque and Laurie LaBar, the creators of the exhibit “Uncommon Threads: Wabanaki Textiles, Clothing and Costume.”
The exhibit showcases more than 100 objects that feature the textile arts of the Wabanaki, many of which are bring shown in Maine for the first time, according to the museum.
“The exhibit’s exceptional objects, dating from prehistory to the late 1800s, demonstrate how careful observation of traditional textiles and costume can provide insights into Wabanaki history,” LaBar said.
The event is free and open to the public.
BLAINE HOUSE CANDIDATES
The University of Maine at Augusta Alumni Association will sponsor two forums this week featuring several of the candidates running for governor. It’s a good chance to see the candidates live in Augusta.
On Tuesday, the panel will feature Steve Rowe, Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, Rosa Scarcelli, Donna Dion, John Richardson and Martin Vachon.
On Thursday, the lineup will be Les Otten, Sen. Peter Mills, Steve Abbott, Eliot Cutler, Kevin Scott and John Whitcomb.
The forums will be held at 6 p.m. in Jewett Auditorium.
Lawmakers plan to take final votes on everything over the next couple of days with leaders expected to adjourn by midweek.
MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan M. Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: