Former Republican state Rep. Lance Harvell, of Farmington, during one of his many floor speeches.

The parade of opponents to Gov. Paul LePage’s tax overhaul continued Monday as lawmakers on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Taxation committees received testimony on proposed increases to the sales tax and broadening the tax to include new goods and services.

As was the case last week on hearings devoted to the income tax cut, revenue sharing elimination and taxing nonprofits, opponents dominated the testimony. Officials and paid representatives for attorneys, summer camps, retailers, accountants and others said the tax overhaul would raise costs and create other problems (As an aside, some of the lobbyists could have just as well thanked the governor for giving them some new clients for the session.)

There were few surprises during the hearing. Businesses exempted from the sales tax generally don’t support having one applied to them. However, there were a few interesting tidbits that could be politically significant.

First, the opposition from the business groups seemed slightly more subdued compared to tax plans that failed in 2013 and were repealed by voters in 2009. In fact, some organizations that openly opposed the 2009 and 2013 efforts took a neutral position Monday. Some of the Democrats involved in the 2009 reform initiative took notice and asked groups like the National Federation of Independent Businesses why. The answer, while not stated publicly, may be that some of these groups are some of LePage’s allies. Maybe they’re fighting this tax plan in a quiet way, maybe not. Or maybe the theory that the governor leading on tax reform is the only way that it will ever happen.

That brings us to the second observation. So far, the biggest supporters, or potential supporters, of the governor’s plan are, to this point, the lawmakers typically aligned with the center of their respective parties. Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, has had a couple of very public disputes with the governor, but right now he’s one of the biggest advocates of this initiative. Katz, a member of the budget committee, has repeatedly defended the plan during hearings over the past week. When Democrats on Monday pushed the administration for data proving that the tax overhaul would produce the advertised economic turnaround, Katz challenged them to provide data showing that the current tax formula was working.

“We’re not operating in a vacuum. If anyone is a defender of the status quo; I’d like to see their data on how a high income tax serves our interests” he said.

Third, LePage has allies among past advocates of tax reform. That includes former Sen. Dick Woodbury, of Yarmouth, who is consulting for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce on the plan. It also includes former state Rep. Lance Harvell, a Republican of Farmington. Harvell voted against the 2009 reform law when he was in the Legislature. However, he signed on as a cosponsor to Woodbury’s Gang of 11 plan in 2013. Harvell came to Augusta on Monday to support the governor’s proposal.

“As long as I’ve been watching this (the tax reform debate), this is the best opportunity to pass tax reform,” he said.

Harvell also recalled a meeting with LePage in 2013 to discuss the Gang of 11 plan. While the governor did not support the initiative, Harvell left the meeting convinced that the governor wasn’t completely opposed to the concept.

Evolution

Harvell’s recollection of the 2013 meeting, combined with the plan now before lawmakers, marks what people in the political world describe as a dramatic evolution for LePage. As the Republican candidate for governor in 2010, LePage was convinced that the state income tax could be reduced simply by shrinking government.

Here’s what LePage had to say about the tax reform law in an interview with Portland Press Herald in 2010:

” ‘People aren’t stupid,’ he said. ‘They can see through smoke and mirrors.’ He added that if the bill had just reduced the income tax without making any other changes, he could have supported it. He advocates a reduction of the income tax to 5 percent and would pay for it by cutting state government.”

Ruh-Roh

Here’s some news for those hoping that the Legislature would declare the Labrador Retriever the official state dog. Are you sitting? Now lie down. Roll over …

Sorry about that. It’s just that it’s looking like the chances to make silly doggy jokes about L.D. 107 are dwindling. The State and Local Government Committee voted 9-2 on Monday spike the retriever bill, a signal that either legislative leaders don’t like labs as much we do or they have declared that legislating this kind of stuff isn’t the best use of lawmakers’ time. The latter explanation is likely the safest bet.

Obama on snow

With the exception of LePage, New England governors visited the White House on Sunday for the kickoff to the annual National Governors Association meeting. The president made some brief remarks and noted the spate of snow storms that hammered New England over the past six weeks. Here’s an excerpt according to the White House transcript:

“We are grateful that the weather held up after yesterday’s storm.  And we’ve been thinking about you governors from New England, and everything that your citizens have been through this winter.  I want to make sure we’re working with each other to get what you need.  It is a good thing that you are not coming on a snowstorm like there was during the dinner of 1987.  Hours into the dinner, the food was gone.  Everybody was standing around. The snow seemed to keep falling harder and harder.  And President Reagan looked out the window and turned to the First Lady and said, ‘Honey, do we have enough cots?’ To which Nancy replied, ‘We have a few spare bedrooms.’ 

But it looks like the weather has cleared up enough that there will not be a pajama party here in the Blue Room tonight.” 

LePage didn’t attend the meeting. He told Maine Public Broadcasting Network that he never found the NGA meetings particularly useful.

“The NGA, the two years that I did participate, everybody sits, Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other side and it’s all niceties and at the end of the day, nothing happens,” he told MPBN.

DHHS budget request

The Appropriations Committee will take a break from the governor’s two-year budget proposal Tuesday and begin working on one of his supplemental budget plans for the current fiscal year. The committee will hold a work session on the Department of Health and Human Services request, which includes $2.7 million for the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital for more staff.

David vs squirrels?

Some lawmakers want to allow the hunting of small game animals with a slingshot. We’ll find out why this method of hunting is preferable to BB guns or low caliber firearms when the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee holds a public hearing on L.D. 291.