AUGUSTA — New lobbying reports show that gambling, tobacco, utility and marijuana groups are among the top spenders on lobbying so far this legislative session in Maine.

The Associated Press’s review of such reports finds over 160 companies, industry groups and advocacy organizations reported spending nearly $360,000 on lobbying Maine state officials in December and January. Lobbyists reported $2.7 million in compensation in 2018. That’s compared with $3.2 million in 2008.

Other top spenders include telecommunication companies and trade groups representing chemical manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry.

The spending comes as Democrats with newfound control over both the Senate and House are starting to consider hundreds of bills ranging from e-cigarettes restrictions to rural broadband efforts to earned paid sick leave to sports betting. Lobbyists are also focusing their efforts on the roll-out of recreational marijuana sales and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ $8 billion, two-year budget proposal, which includes nearly $150 million for voter-approved Medicaid expansion.

“Obviously there’s a chance now to back bills that improve people’s lives, from earned sick days to expanding access to health care, to action finally on the opioid epidemic,” said Mike Tipping, spokesman for liberal advocacy group Maine People’s Alliance, which reported spending roughly $1,000 on lobbying. Tipping said he hopes earned paid sick leave legislation – set for a Feb. 25 hearing – will be an “early win” for Democrats. Mills has vowed not to raise taxes as part of her proposal, which relies heavily on independent forecasts of rising tax revenues in years to come.

But Tipping said his group is pushing lawmakers to end the parts of former Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s tax breaks that benefit the wealthy.

“She also says she wants everyone to have access to health care and fund education and fund revenue sharing,” Tipping said. “So, obviously we think those are the more important promises.”

Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to join with Democrats on efforts to repeal Maine’s vehicle inspection program and take a new look at the state’s occupational licensing rules in hopes of attracting workers to the aging state.

Despite losing their majority in the Maine Senate, conservatives also hope to keep state spending low. LePage has announced plans to launch a conservative think tank to rally opposition to bills at the State House.

“Really what we want to do is paint the picture that there’s another path forward. We don’t have to be so far to the left,” said Jacob Posik, director of communications for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a right-wing think tank that reported spending about $8,500 on lobbying in December and January.


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