April 5, 2010

It's 'the table' for bills that lack funding

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

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.

'HE'S BACK'

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.

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