Yes! More snow. ‘Cause we need it.


Light schedule at the State House on Friday. The budget committee will discuss and possibly vote a number of bills, including a supplemental budget proposal designed to bail out at least five county jails running deficits. The proposal has been altered since it was introduced Tuesday. First, there’s more money, about $300,000 more, for a total of $2.48 million, which is the amount that the Board of Corrections requested in January.

The Government Oversight Committee will meet, along with the Education Committee. However, most legislators are blowing out of town for the long weekend. There will be no sessions next week, but committee hearings will continue, including public hearings on the governor’s two-year budget.

Meanwhile, as the Associated Press reported Thursday night, Gov. Paul LePage, as he indicated in November, will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal the U.S. 1st Circuit Court ruling that his move to remove young adults from the Medicaid rolls in 2012 was illegal. If the administration is successful — the court only hears a select number of appeals — then the governor may very well need that $2 million he’s requested in the budget for outside legal counsel.

And before we get to a couple of State House tidbits, a non-political item in honor of David Carr, the New York Times media critic who collapsed and died at the NYT office Thursday. There will be plenty of well written eulogies and tributes, so it seems appropriate to share my favorite clips of the documentary “Page One” in which Carr became the star of the movie. In this clip — which is NSFW but tempting to post right here anyway to honor the man — Carr calls a timeout during an interview with some hotshot reporter from VICE to defend the Times:

Carr: “Before you ever went there, we’ve had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a X*$! safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do. So continue. Continue.”

Hotshot: “I’m just saying I’m not a journalist, I’m there to report.”

Carr: “Yeah, obviously. Go ahead.”

RIP. What a loss.

Data please

Richard Rosen, the governor’s budget director, and Mike Allen, the tax director, briefed the budget committee on the tax overhaul plan on Thursday. The briefing was mostly a question and answer session, and frankly, more questions than answers. Legislators made a number of requests for information, including impacts of the tax proposal on Mainers. There was also a request to generate an online tax calculator like the one the Baldacci administration created when the Legislature passed the tax reform law in 2009. The idea is to allow Mainers to plug in their income and tax data to see how the governor’s tax plan will affect them.

Rosen wasn’t confident that his department could produce such a tool.

He and Allen also provided some interesting data that provide context for the income tax cut and who it would impact the most. A few tidbits:

* According to 2013 tax returns, there were 203,715 returns from Mainers earning between $20,001 and $50,000. This is the largest number of earners in the state.

* The 2nd largest number of earners fall within the $20,000 or less.

* The 3rd largest number of earners fall within the $50,001 and $100,000 income bracket. The number of filers falls off — way off — from there. And for the record, there were 607 millionaires filing returns in Maine in 2013. That’s 207 more than LePage claimed were in Maine during his town hall meeting in Westbrook Wednesday.

* There were 20,000 Mainers earning minimum wage or less in 2013. Of them, 52 percent were under the age 25, 44 percent work in food service occupations in which tips are customary, 15 percent work in sales, 71 percent work part-time as their primary job.

* The multiple job rate in Maine is 8.6 percent.

* Unsurprisingly, Sales tax collections took a hit during the height of the recession, falling 5.3% between 2008 and 2009. Collections have been on the rise since 2011, thanks in large part to the temporary sales tax increase enacted by the Legislature in 2013.

Connect, and then disconnect 

There’s an effort underfoot to potentially undo the merger that produced the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

A bill, LD 39 sponsored by Republican Sen. Peter Edgecomb of Caribou, would create a task force to review whether the department is providing the same level of service – or better – than when the state had a Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources and a Department of Conservation.

The issue was somewhat divisive when the Legislature approved the merger in 2012, and several years later interest groups are still divided. The Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Audubon testified in support of revisiting the merger while The Nature Conservancy opposed it.

The Maine Forest Products Council – the primary trade group and lobbying organization for Maine’s forestry industry – also opposed Edgecomb’s bill, saying the department still needs time to “get the kinks out of the system.”

The department’s current commissioner, Walter Whitcomb, was officially neither for nor against the bill but certainly seemed to be leaning against it in his testimony.

“We believe that staff time is more important for constituent services than for continual self-analysis,” Whitcomb told members of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

In some ways, Thursday’s hearing was a skirmish ahead of the much bigger fight over the department.

As part of his budget, LePage has proposed eliminating more than 20 forest ranger positions and shifting all policing responsibilities now handled by the rangers to a new group of natural resources law enforcement officers – a type of “woods wardens,” if you will. LePage also wants to restructure several of the bureaus within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Environmental and outdoor recreation groups as well as forest rangers are gearing up for a fight over budget proposals, which came up several times Thursday during discussion on the merger-review bill.

Public hearings on the ACF department’s proposed budget are tentatively slated for Feb. 25 in front of the ACF Committee and the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.