Good morning,

There’s no session Monday, but legislative committees will be buzzing with a host of public hearings and work sessions.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hold public hearings on several bills designed to restrict the use of consumer fireworks. Similar proposals have been introduced since the Republican-led Legislature legalized consumer fireworks in 2011, but significant changes to the law have been few and far between because attempts to change the law are quickly labeled as anti-business.

There are several hearings in the Labor Commerce and Economic Development Committee, including L.D. 403, a proposal that would eliminate the minimum wage requirement for tipped employees. Expect strong resistance from the Maine Restaurant Association.

Meanwhile, it’s booze day in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee where lawmakers will hold hearings on bills that range from changing the type of containers that brewers can use to distribute beer to changing the number of agency liquor stores in municipalities.

The Taxation Commitee is also in to review bills regarding tax havens, an issue that surfaced during the Democratic-controlled Legislature in 2014 and became deeply partisan.

Not us!

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Gov. Paul LePage’s tax overhaul plan is dead given the governor’s own comments last week about its slim prospects for enactment, his criticism of Republican lawmakers and the response by Republican Senate leaders. Maybe that’s where this plan will end up, but we’re not quite there yet.

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, and Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester were noticeably absent from the Republican response to the governor’s comments that GOP members who don’t support his tax plan may not actually be Republicans. In fact, both members of Republican House leadership wanted to make sure there was no confusion when they deployed their communications director to text a reporter at 5 a.m. Friday, asking him to clarify some ambiguous language in the Press Herald story about the joint statement Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Majority Leader Sen. Garrett Mason.

It’s unclear whether Fredette and Espling actually support the governor’s plan, or were simply trying to stay out of the tit-for-tat between LePage and Senate Republicans. What’s clear is that the governor’s proposal has divided the Republican caucus in fascinating ways. Hardline conservatives who stood with the governor (i.e. Thibodeau) when he called on them to veto the 2013 budget because it contained a sales tax increase are now resistant to embracing his tax overhaul. Meanwhile, reputed moderates and pragmatists who defied him in 2013 are more open to it. And there’s a few hardliners still with the governor, like Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, who wrote in an op-ed that the plan would “liberate” Mainers from the income tax.

Meanwhile,  although some Democrats are making a show of opposing parts of the governor’s plan, some are privately admitting that some of it isn’t all that bad. Remember, Democrats largely support broadening the sales tax base to services and some exempt goods, even if they’re not totally in love with raising the rate. Also, the governor’s plan keeps the lodging tax level, and Democrats have previously supported raising it. And while they’re dead-set against eliminating revenue sharing — and so are many Republicans — what if there was a deal to reduce revenue sharing but use the funds to beef up the homestead exemption for everyone, not just those 65 and older as the governor has proposed (although there may not be enough revenue sharing to do both)? That’s the kind of direct property tax relief the governor has been talking about .

In other words, there are still many elements of this budget and tax plan that could be traded and swapped in a negotiation. Of course, if Republicans are in open rebellion against the governor, Democrats will probably join the party and merrily exact their revenge for the 2014 election.

But we’re not at the rebellion phase. Not yet. It’s negotiation time. Some of the frustration will inevitably spill into the media, especially if LePage keeps saying that Republicans aren’t real Republicans. But it seems like there’s still time for the governor to get a good bit of what he wants this session, if he still wants it.

Nonprofit tax makes waves

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what will happen to LePage’s tax overhaul this session, but if the plan sure has generated a lot of national attention.

Last week the The Pew Charitable Trusts news service Stateline ran a piece highlighting the governor’s plan to tax nonprofits while reviewing similar proposals in other states. An Associated Press story about LePage nonprofit tax by Alanna Durkin was picked up by a number of media outlets, including the New York Times.

Interest by the media doesn’t necessarily assist in acceptance by lawmakers. Nonetheless, all of the attention to LePage’s plan has initiated a discussion and a real policy debate. How many budget plans in Maine have done that?

‘Climate change’ verboten

Interesting story by the Florida Center for Investigate Reporting. It turns out that state officials are forbidden to use this words “climate change” or “global warning” in official state communications.

Would this have anything to do with the fact that Florida Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t believe in climate change?

According to FCIR, “Jeri Bustamante, a spokesperson with the governor’s office, wrote in an email that ‘There’s no policy on this.'”

Uh-huh.