Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Dropping the "morning" from the Briefing today for obvious reasons:
Backroom: After holding a heavily attended public hearing last week over a bill designed to prevent a $40 million cut in municipal aid, the Legislature's budget-writing committee is retreating to the back room to begin negotiations over how such a proposal would work.
On Tuesday the committee was expected to move into their party respective caucuses, a position that allows the panel to avoid messy public deliberations and negotiate in private. While the state's open meeting law prohibits a quorum of elected officials from conducting public business in private, the Legislature has often used an assumed caucus exemption to hammer out deals on such things as the state's $6.3 billion budget.
The practice has gone on for decades thanks to an old opinion by the Attorney General that said, "Party caucuses are not committees or subcommittees of the Legislature, so their meetings do not appear to be public proceedings. Similarly, informal meetings of the members of a committee who are affiliated with the same party are not public proceedings as these members are not designated by the committee as a whole to conduct business of the committee.”
The opinion also advised not to make decisions or use the caucus to get around the public meeting.
Many have questioned whether the party caucuses really are being used to get around the opening meeting law. After all, the budget writing committee's public deliberations are often polite and neat when budget negotiations -- or in this case revenue sharing versus eliminating tax breaks -- rarely are.
Budget Pacman: The Maine chapter of Americans for Prosperity held a lightly-attended press conference at the Welcome Center Tuesday to speak against the bill that would expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.
Carol Weston, a former state legislator who now heads the Maine AFP, compared Medicaid to Pacman, saying that if the Legislature enacted the bill it would lead to cuts in education and municipal revenue sharing. Weston didn't have any fancy props, so she simply drew Pacman on a piece of paper and hung it from the flat-screen television in the Welcome Center.
Laura Parker, a member of the Sidney Board of Selectmen, said Medicaid expansion would likely result in further erosion of the state's promise to share sales tax revenue with municipalities (which just so happens to be the big debate this session).
Brian Powers, of the Hope School Committee, predicted a similar outcome for local school budgets. He said Medicaid expansion created a culture of dependency. He said the expansion was like giving people "a fish" rather than "teaching them to fish" (click here for origin of that proverb).
Another conservative web forum: Sunday marked the relaunch of As Maine Goes, the conservative web forum. While the revamped site is aiming to attract a broad range of commenters, some members of the libertarian wing have launched their own forum, The Maine Citizen.
The differences between the libertarian wing and the so-called Republican party establishment run deep. Some of the libertarians have abandoned the party, including 2nd Congressional candidate Blaine Richardson.
Department of Corrections: The Democratic communications staff had to correct a press release announcing Tuesday's join convention for former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. The release noted that state lawmakers would present a special legislative sentiment honoring Mitchell prior to the unveiling ceremony for his "self-portrait" in the Hall of Flags.
The correction: "The previous release incorrectly referred to Senator Mitchell’s portrait as a self-portrait. While Senator Mitchell is very accomplished, he did not paint the picture. It was painted by James Hanley of Dublin, Ireland. My apologies."
Nonpolitical item: I have a friend who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. who complains about oblivious parents and their kids there. This, a photo of a toddler crawling on a $3 million art display, is not going to help (h/t Gawker):
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.