Statehouse2

Good morning.

Most state lawmakers are on break this week, but the budget writing committee will be busy. Tuesday marks the beginning of what promises to be long public hearings on Gov. Paul LePage’s budget. The committee isn’t easing into this, either. The panel on Tuesday will begin taking testimony on the various portions of the budget that contain the governor’s tax overhaul. That just so happens to be the most complicated, controversial and consequential aspect of the budget.

Public hearings are not typically question-and-answer affairs, so there will likely be a lot of proclamations about tax provisions without much opportunity for rebuttal by the administration. And to be honest, the LePage administration’s push to sell the tax plan has thus far been heavier on the theoretical than the informational. Lawmakers on the budget committee experienced this last week when they requested a bevy of information about how the overhaul would affect their constituents, including an online tax calculator that would allow Mainers to plug in their income and other information to find out whether they’d win or lose under the plan.

It doesn’t sound like the administration is going to produce a calculator, however. It has generated a number of scenarios showing how Mainers would fare with the income tax reduction, but the sales and property tax portions of the plan aren’t nearly as complete. At the end of the day, the public will want to know if the planned migration from income taxes to sales and property taxes is a net gain.

Big wins, another term

Rick Bennett was elected to another term as chairman of the Maine Republican Party over the weekend. That’s no surprise given that Bennett oversaw big wins during the 2014 election as LePage was reelected and Republicans made gains in the Legislature.

Bennett would seem to be in a good position to remain chairman for as long as he wants given the current state of affairs for the Maine GOP. Electoral wins always have that effect. Nonetheless, Bennett has brought a sense of stability and unity to the party since taking over in mid-2013. Granted there will always be forces that threaten to divide a political party, like say, election losses or a divisive tax reform plan.

King moves for extension

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and 10 Democratic senators are asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to give individuals who could be subject to the individual mandate tax penalty under the Affordable Care Act another chance to buy health insurance.

The call for a special enrollment period would allow uninsured individuals who did not purchase insurance in 2014 a second chance to buy it this year.

“Such a special enrollment period would increase coverage in affordable private health insurance and reduce the costs that the uninsured pass along to the insured,” King and the senators wrote.

The letter to U.S. DHHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell argues that some people may not be made aware of the mandate penalty until they file their taxes this year.

The open enrollment period for 2015 ended for most on Sunday. However, the federal government announced Monday that some people unable to have their incomes verified because of technical glitches on healthcare.gov will have until Feb. 21.

Tax reform supporter likes LePage plan

Count former state Sen. Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth among those who like the governor’s tax overhaul. Woodbury, the Harvard educated economist who wrote the so-called Gang of 11 plan in 2013, has made a number of public statements supporting LePage’s reform initiative.

There are some similarities between Woodbury’s plan and LePage’s, specifically the shift from income taxation to sales taxation. Like Woodbury, the governor’s plan raises the sale tax and eliminates exemptions. It also focuses on taxing tourists, save for one big exception. Woodbury’s plan increased the meals and lodging taxes to further target visitors, but LePage’s does not.