October 7, 2013

Republican leader seeks to end Maine sales tax increase a year early

Rep. Kenneth Frenette, R-Newport, would offset lost revenue with cuts to DHHS and education.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Staff photo by Joe Phelan Senate minority leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport

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Several bills, sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, attempt to restore a rent and property-tax credit program known as circuit breaker. The Legislature eliminated the program in the budget, swapping it for another tax credit initiative that’s since been criticized for providing significantly less property tax relief to low- and middle-income residents.

The new program adopted by the Legislature was expected to save the state $20 million to $25 million, but lawmakers have been hearing complaints from residents who came to rely on the circuit breaker, which provided tax refunds ranging from $479 to $1,600.

Mainers who qualify for the new program can receive a maximum tax credit of $300 a year, or $400 if they are 70 or older. Residents who expected circuit breaker refunds in August won’t get them, and the tax credit won’t be available until 2014. Sen. Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is sponsoring one bill to restore the circuit breaker.

The new slate of bills would be reviewed for the second session, which begins Jan. 7, 2014. However, many of the proposals won’t make it, according to Ericka Dodge, spokeswoman for Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. Dodge said Friday that legislative leaders will approve only between 25 percent and 30 percent of the new bill requests for next session. Those decisions will be made by the Legislative Council later this month.

The second session is supposed to be for emergency legislation, but lawmakers have stretched that definition over the years. Some of the bill titles suggest that their sponsors will have to make a compelling argument for emergency designation, including “An Act to Designate the Lobster Roll the State Sandwich,” “An Act to Change the Statutory Reference to the State Holiday ‘Patriot’s Day’ to ‘Patriots’ Day’ ” and “An Act to Allow the Use of Slingshots in Small Game Hunting.”

Other bills are likely to see the light of day and generate serious debate, including two bills by Fredette that would tighten work search requirements for individuals seeking cash welfare benefits and a bill by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, to expand Medicaid, the public health insurance program for the poor, through the Affordable Care Act.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: smistler@pressherald.comTwitter: @stevemistler

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