Happy Monday.

Lawmakers are returning from break this week. Some, specifically those on the Appropriations and Taxation committees, never really left as the committee held several hearings last week on the governor’s two-year budget. The public hearings will continue on the budget Monday and through the week.

Members of legislative leadership were largely absent, although some Democrats donned hard hats in Fort Kent and other locales as part of their statewide jobs tour.

There are a number of non-budget public hearings and work sessions Monday, including a potential vote on making the Labrador retriever the official state dog.

Clean?

There’s also a hearing on a bill that would prohibit Maine Clean Election candidates from creating leadership PACs. This bill pops up every session and is promptly killed under the direction of legislative leaders who run as Clean Election candidates and create leadership PACs, or by those harboring leadership ambitions.

However, there may be some hope for this one, L.D. 204. Only three of the 10 members in leadership ran “clean” last year, Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick. All the rest ran traditional campaigns. Additionally, while these bills have been spiked before, there’s been a fair amount of attention brought to the practice of candidates accepting taxpayer funds to “get the money out of politics” and then turning around soliciting and accepting donations from corporations and special interest groups to extend electoral favors in the hope of securing leadership positions.

And finally, there’s the fact that participation in the Maine Clean Election program has plummeted since the courts wiped out matching funds.

In the end, the passage of L.D. 204 could hinge on the program’s increasing inviability.

NRA, SAM unite for ballot reform

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is ginning up support for L.D. 176, a bill that would make it harder for out-of-state interest groups to initiate ballot measures in Maine by closing a loophole on signature gatherers. SAM’s purpose here makes sense. The group was one of the leading opponents of Question 1, a bear-baiting referendum initiated by the Humane Society of the United States and it has an interest in preventing HSUS from launching a third bear baiting campaign.

But why does the National Rifle Association care about L.D. 176? On Friday, the high power gun rights advocacy group sent an action alert to its Maine members urging them to support L.D. 176.

“(It) would prevent non-Maine residents from collecting signatures or handling petitions in any manner, limiting the influence of out-of-state special interests from using their deep pockets to restrict or limit the rights of Mainers. People’s veto referendums and direct initiatives were designed for the people of Maine to be able to directly influence the laws that govern them if they do not agree with them or want to see a change.  This special privilege is somewhat unique to Maine and should not be abused by outside money and power.”

The NRA mobilizing its members against “outside money and power” will likely strike its critics as a wee bit ironic. It’s interest in L.D. 176 will also fuel years of suspicion that the NRA and SAM often act in unison.

Trash money

The waste-to-energy industry has spent a lot of money lobbying state policymakers over the past two sessions. One company, the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., a waste-to-energy facility in Orrington, is doing it again.

PERC has spent over $71,000 lobbying lawmakers since December, according to lobbying disclosure data from the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. No other company or organization has come close to spending that kind of money so far this session.

Dems promise budget ‘alternative’

The Democratic radio address last week promised to deliver a fairer alternative to the governor’s budget.

In the address, Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, said she was pleased that the governor’s tax reform and income tax cut are “back on the table,” but that the package largely benefits the wealthy and corporations. Valentino then went on to list all of the other concerns Democrats have with the budget (municipal revenue sharing elimination, etc.).

The address didn’t specifically address how Democrats would make the budget better for low and middle income Mainers, but it sounds like they’re not going to die on the hill opposing the income tax cut. Perhaps their proposal will include changes to how the tax relief is distributed.

What’s in a title?

It’s no secret that Gov. Paul LePage had problems with the presidents of the Maine Technology Institute (MTI). The governor fired former president Bob Martin last August and former president Betsy Biemann abruptly quit in 2012, presumably after refusing to adhere to the governor’s request that private companies receive preference over nonprofits and public entities for R&D grants.

With that as background, it’s easy to read into Friday’s announcement that the governor had nominated Brian Whitney as director — not president — of MTI. The distinction between the titles may seem meaningless, but it would seem that “president” carries a heavier connotation of autonomy than “director?”

It’s not clear if the title change is a mistake or intentional because both were used in the press release issued Friday.