Saturday, March 8, 2014
Ghosts of tax reform: The fate of L.D. 1496, the tax reform bill proposed by a bipartisan coalition of legislators seeking to overhaul Maine's tax code, is still in the hands of the Taxation Committee, which could vote to carry it over until next year.
However, it appears that some elements of the bill are being discussed by lawmakers negotiating a bipartisan compromise on the state's next two-year budget. Specifically, lawmakers are weighing whether two elements in the reform bill designed to provide property tax relief can be used as a budget solution.
The single biggest criticism of Gov. Paul LePage's proposed budget is his plan to suspend municipal revenue sharing, a plan opponents say will result in increased property taxes. The tax reform bill has two provisions designed to provide property tax relief, an increased homestead exemption and a circuit breaker program.
Geoff Herman, the lobbyist for the Maine Municipal Association, the organization representing the state's cities and towns, said Monday that Republicans on the budget-writing committee are discussing using the increased property tax relief in the tax reform bill to blunt the expected impacts of suspending revenue sharing. The rationale is that the homestead and circuit breakers programs are targeted property tax relief and perhaps more effective than simply allowing towns to spend revenue sharing as they see fit.
It's not clear if this theory is gaining traction among Democrats, who are stridently opposed to the revenue sharing cut. However, it appears Republicans are interested because they're against tax increases or the delay of the 2011 tax cuts, both of which Democrats support. Republicans aren't thrilled with the revenue tax suspension either.
Herman said increasing the circuit breaker and homestead exemptions may be targeted property tax relief, but he was doubtful that the plan would make municipalities whole.
Another study: The debate over Medicaid expansion has produced countless references to studies projecting the financial and health care impacts.
Another study has been thrown into the mix.
The latest one comes from the RAND Corp., a national non-profit organization that found that if 14 states opposing Medicaid expansion opt out, 3.6 million fewer people will be insured and federal payments to those states could fall by $8.4 billion. The study also found that state spending on uncompensated care to hospitals could increase by $1 billion in 2016 compared to what would happen if those states expand.
The study didn't offer state-specific data and relied on aggregate data.
RAND Corp. is considered a nonpartisan non-profit organization.
Changing minds: The Senate isn't expected to vote on the standalone bill that would expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. The House passed the bill Monday, 89-51, with five Republicans voting with the Democratic majority.
Democrats are hoping that more Republicans will join them in the Senate. That could be one of the reasons why Democratic leaders aren't running the bill on Tuesday.
Transitional sunlight: Interesting Ethics Commission bill that's flown under the radar this session: L.D. 1023, a proposal that would require a governor-elect to disclose contributions over $100 to his/her transition team.
The bill emerged from the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on a party line vote, 8-5. According to testimony from the Maine Ethics Commission, the proposal would add disclosure requirements for organizations and lobbyists that contribute to a governor-elect's transition committee.
Transition committees have been used by governors to help select cabinet members and staff. The process is expensive, leading incoming chief executives to solicit donations to help fund the process. L.D. 1023 would reveal which organizations and individuals are participating in the effort.
When Gov. Paul LePage was elected in 2010 his transition team disclosed the companies and individuals that funded it, but not the amount of the donations. The governor's transition team later morphed into Maine People Before Politics, LePage's political organization.
Non-political item: Why "Game of Thrones" #redwedding hurt so bad (h/t Tasha Robinson and, YES, SPOILER ALERT):
"Having him go down as the victim of a sneaky, cowardly plot is like watching Harry Potter get fatally gutshot at the Yule Ball, halfway through the books. He’s the hero; he’s supposed to win, no matter what it takes. The majority of fantasy stories are about escapism and wish-fulfillment, and about the catharsis that comes when a deserving champion punishes and defeats an equally deserving villain. The protagonists may have setbacks and disappointments, they may make sacrifices, but they don’t die ignominiously, choking on their own blood, while their enemies gloat."
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.