Thursday February 14, 2013 | 09:55 AM

Taxing issue: Democratic leaders have been talking a lot about a "tax fairness" the past two weeks. Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, first mentioned a fair tax structure last week during Democratic leaders' weekly media availability.

So what exactly will tax fairness legislation look like? 

A bill by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, may hold the answer. Berry, the House majority leader, has a bill titled "An Act To Provide Tax Fairness for Maine's Middle Class and Working Families."

Berry said Wednesday that his bill is still being developed. However, he indicated that it may propose raising taxes on the wealthy while lowering taxes for middle income earners. 

Democrats have also indicated that there could be changes to the state's tax code. They're offering few details beyond that, but it's a safe bet such proposals will become some of the most vigorously debated this session. 

Steele stolen: Gov. Paul LePage has added a person to his communications staff. Peter Steele joined the governor's staff this week, filling an intermittent vacancy on the communications team led by director Adrienne Bennett. 

Steele will be a familiar face to some. Most recently he led communications for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the conservative advocacy group with close ties to the LePage administration. Steele was also the co-editor of the Twin City Times in Auburn. Laurie Steele, Peter's wife, still runs the paper (Peter is still listed as the editor in chief, but he's previously indicated that his wife is running the paper).

Meanwhile, MHPC has replaced Steele with Bowdoin College graduate Steve Robinson. Robinson has already made his mark in the #mepolitics Twitter feed, trading barbs with University of Maine political science professor Amy Fried and liberal blogger Gerald Weinand.  

Deluge: Lots of bills coming out of the Revisor's Office so expect a full slate of public hearings next week. 

The $153 million supplemental budget isn't on Thursday House calendar, so there probably won't be a floor vote on it until next week.

 

Not happy: The budget deal struck by the Appropriations Committee made sure that charter schools were exempted from the governor's education cuts. 

The issue was a sticking point during negotiations as Democrats had originally proposed including the $5,000 charter subsidy in the reductions. Republicans essentially said they wouldn't vote for the spending plan if charters were included. 

Democrats eventually conceded. The Maine Education Association, the state's teachers union, wasn't terribly thrilled with the outcome. Here's what Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the MEA, said:

"This move is extremely upsetting.  If cuts are going to be made, charter schools should have to face the same consequences as our public schools since they are also funded by taxpayer dollars.  This funding model is not only unfair, but truly shows where the Governor's priorities are-with the few charter school students and not with the majority of our kids enrolled in public schools.  Unfortunately this supplemental budget is just the beginning of the problem for our public schools, if the Governor has his way.  His budget calls for these cuts to continue over the next two years. Our schools and communities can't take any more cuts because the truth is...some cuts never heal."

Kilby-Chesley didn't chastise Democrats in her statement.

Semi- non-political item: Hat tips, standing ovations and wild applause to Gawker for gif-ing single-handedly the best State of the Union Address moment between President Obama and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill (Sorry, Sen. Rubio). 

 

 

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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
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