Revised Sept. 8, 2014
State Capital Notes …
Maine lawmakers on April 16 finished the second session of the 126th Maine Legislature. The session was marked by a record number of vetoes by Gov. Paul LePage who in many instances broke with his own party in rejecting legislation. Lawmakers returned on May 1 to take up 48 vetoes cast by the governor. They sustained 33 of the 48 vetoes, and overrode 15. Many of the bills vetoed by the governor were supported by both chambers of the Legislature, but failed to get a two/thirds required to override.
In the first session, lawmakers had repeatedly tried to pass a bill to extend Medicaid benefits to 70,000 low-income Maine residents. In the second session, three bills to extend coverage to Mainers were vetoed by the governor. A compromise included an attempt to reduce the waitlist for service in Medicaid and added two new fraud investigators in the attorney general’s office. It also would have allowed the state to contract with private companies to operate a managed-care program and to withdraw from the expansion after three years. In the first year, the federal government would reimburse states 100%, which would be reduced to 90% or more after three years.
That Medicaid expansion bill received a majority in both chambers, but failed to get the two-thirds required to override LePage’s veto.
Lawmakers passed several bills to address shortfalls in the state budget, including LD 1843, a supplemental appropriations bill to close a $40 million shortfall in the FY14. The measure became law without the governor’s signature.
In other budget action, lawmakers took issue with LePage’s veto of $32 million to address a gap in the FY15 budget. The Senate voted unanimously to override the governor’s veto, while the House took similar action to override by a 133-to-8 margin.
- addresses a shortfall in the MaineCare program ($17 million)
- increases reimbursement rates for nursing homes ($5 million)
- provides home care services for the developmentally disabled ($5 million)
- provides additional funding for Riverview Psychiatric Center and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center
- invests in key education and workforce training programs including $650,000 for the Bridge Year program, $300,000 for Maine’s Graduates and $750,000 for Head Start programs.
Revenue Funds Passed
Despite objections from LePage, lawmakers passed LD 1762, which prevents $40 million in cuts to revenue-sharing funds for municipalities. The bill became law without LePage’s signature. It provides that money will come, in part. from the state’s “rainy day fund.” Later, the governor submitted a bill to restore $21 million to the rainy day fund, which legislators approved.
Bond Package Passed
In an effort to jumpstart jobs, lawmakers passed a $50 million bond package, which will invest in Maine’s economy and infrastructure. Democrats and Republicans approved six initiatives by a two-thirds margin in each chamber. One of the bonds aims to fund $12 million for recapitalization of the Regional Economic Development Loan Program and the Commercial Loan Insurance Programs that help small businesses who are on the verge of creating jobs to have access to capital. An $8 million bond for the University of Maine Cooperative Extensive Program would assist farmers and foresters.
The remaining four bonds would be awarded on a competitive basis:
- $10 million to expand research capabilities in developing cancer cures;
- $3 million for Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory to modernize tissue repair and regeneration;
- $7 million to create jobs in the marine economy and increase the sector’s capacity and sustainability; and
- $10 million for clean drinking water infrastructure projects.
The bonds go to the governor for his signature and, if approved. would go on the ballot in November for voters to approve.
University of Maine Struggles With Shortfall
A subcommittee of the Board of Trustees for the University of Maine System approved a plan to use $11.4 million from a reserve fund to balance the system’s budget of $528 million for FY15. The reserve fund was created in 2010 to be used to address shortfalls at the system’s campuses.
(In May, the board approved a budget, which extends the tuition freeze for state residents.)
The system will eliminate 157 positions to address a structural deficit of $36 million, which is attributed to level funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes. Five-year projections show the system faces a budget deficit of $46 million next year, with increases each year to almost $90 million in 2019.
Chancellor James Page said he thinks the campus reductions lay the groundwork for future cuts but more will be needed as the system moves toward a “portfolio” model, with each campus carving out unique offerings and reducing the number of redundant courses and academic programs. Trustees were scheduled to meet in May to approve a budget plan.
Revenue from tuition and fees has fallen with the decline in enrollment. There were 900 fewer students enrolled in the U of Maine System than projected for fall 2013. Maine is not an exception. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, beginning with fall 2012, college enrollments nationwide declined by approximately half a million students from the previous year. This follows a period of growth from 2006 to 2011. During that period, undergraduate and graduate enrollment grew by 3.2 million nationally.
Declining Enrollment at Maine Community Colleges
The Maine Community College System is experiencing its first enrollment decline in a quarter-century. Enrollment in the system was down 2% to about 18,000 students. The trend is expected to continue as Maine has a declining population and a decline in the number of students graduating from high school. This has had a dramatic impact on the system where campuses are tuition-dependent.
Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) finds itself in a unique position. Even though the campus gets only one quarter to one third of its revenue from tuition, the impact is still being felt. Moreover, the college is limited in what it can do to cut operational expenses. KVCC’s new facilities are part of the Harold Alfond Campus. This 600-acre campus was purchased in part with a $10.8 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation. According to KVCC President Richard Hopper, the campus’s physical growth cannot be scaled back to pay for its operational expenses since expenditures come from completely separate funding sources, which can’t be commingled. Hopper notified a small number of employees of possible layoffs to give them the opportunity to explore other options.
Higher Education Legislation Passed
Resolve, To Establish the Commission To Study College Affordability and College Completion
Establishes the Commission To Study College Affordability and College Completion. The commission is directed to examine and make recommendations on the development of strategies to keep the cost of public postsecondary education in the State affordable and to increase the graduation rate of students enrolled in state-supported public institutions of higher education. The commission is required to submit a report by Dec. 9, 2014 to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over education matters. The report submitted by the commission must include findings, recommendations and any necessary implementing legislation to keep the cost of public postsecondary education in the State affordable and to increase the graduation rate of students enrolled in state-supported public institutions of higher education. The joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over education and cultural affairs may submit a bill related to this report to the First Regular Session of the 127th Legislature.
An Act To Facilitate Informed Planning for Higher Education and Careers
Establishes the State Education and Employment Outcomes Commission to develop procedures to maintain and disseminate information and data on education results, program completion, graduation, credentials earned, loans and loan defaults and costs as well as employment and earnings for graduates of postsecondary educational institutions in the State. Also establishes the Education and Outcomes Technical and Data Working Group to make recommendations to the commission regarding the use of the Department of Labor’s educational outcome database, the duties of the commission regarding a website jointly hosted by the departments of Labor and Education and integration of the information on this website for the state’s secondary schools, funding methods for the database and additional data for inclusion in the database.
An Act to Allow All Veterans to be Eligible for In-state Tuition Rates
A current member or veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces who has been honorably discharged and is enrolled in a program of education at any campus of the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System or the Maine Maritime Academy, is eligible for in-state tuition rates, regardless of the member’s or veteran’s state of residence.
An Act To Improve Degree and Career Attainment for Former Foster Children
Allows former foster children to receive guidance and financial help with higher education expenses averaging $5,000 a year until their 27th birthdays. At present, Maine provides no support or guidance beyond age 20. The bill leverages one private foundation dollar for every two public dollars and would support up to 40 young Mainers at a given time.
Resolve, To Create the Task Force To End Student Hunger in Maine
Creates a task force to study issues associated with the creation of a public-private partnership to provide expertise to school administrative units throughout the state in adopting best practices and maximizing available federal funds for addressing student hunger by using:
1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, National School Lunch Program;
2. U.S. Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program, At-Risk Afterschool Meals;
3. U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program; and
4. The four privately funded hunger coordinators positioned in the Healthy Maine Partnerships districts to encourage the use of school food programs.
The task force shall draft a three- to five-year plan outlining a ramp-up of school-food programs throughout the state, and the Legislative Council shall provide necessary staffing services to the task force to submit a report that includes its suggested legislation and actions that can be taken immediately by the first regular session of the 127th Legislature.
An Act to Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Pre-K Education
Provides a framework for the implementation of universal voluntary pre-kindergarten education to all school districts in Maine by the 2017-18 school year. It would utilize the network of public schools and local community providers. Also changes the compulsory age of school attendance from the age 7 to age 5. Became law without the governor’s signature
Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Chapter 180: Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Education
This resolution provides for legislative review of Chapter 180: Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems, a major substantive rule of the Department of Education. It removes the provision that at least 20% of teachers’ evaluation be based on test scores. It leaves the task of coming up with a percentage to school district stakeholders groups. It was supported by the Maine School Superintendents Association, the Maine School Board Association, the Maine Principals Association and the Maine Education Association. Legislature overturned governor’s veto
An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Report Defining Cost Responsibility for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students Receiving Services from the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf
Submitted by the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, the bill provides that, beginning with the 2015-16 school year:
1. The school administrative unit in which a deaf or hard-of-hearing student resides is responsible for providing a free, appropriate public education to a student placed in a center school program or in one of the satellite school programs operated by the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf;
2. The individualized education program team for the school administrative unit in which a deaf or hard-of-hearing student resides is responsible for the placement decision of the student and, when the center school or one of the satellite school programs is being considered as a placement for the student, must invite a representative of the center school or the satellite school to attend the individualized education program team meeting at which this placement is being considered;
3. The school administrative unit in which the student resides must pay the sums necessary to ensure that services required to meet the individualized education program are provided, including tuition, transportation services and other related services as defined by the Maine Revised Statutes or in one of the designated satellite school programs; and
4. The School Board of the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf must pay the room and board costs for each student placed in a residential program in the center school or in one of the satellite school programs through funds appropriated by the state.
Other Laws Passed
An Act To Support Community Health Centers through Tax Credits for Dentists and Primary Care Professionals Practicing in Underserved Areas
Extends the existing dental care access tax credit by requiring the Maine Department of Health and Human Services oral health program to certify up to five eligible dentists who have unpaid student loans and practice full-time in underserved areas for at least five years. Legislature overturned governor’s veto.
An Act To Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right To Know about Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock
Maine becomes the second state to approve legislation to require disclosure of genetic engineering at the point of retail sale of food and seed stock. It provides that food or seed stock for which the disclosure is not made is considered to be misbranded and subject to the sanctions for misbranding. The bill further provides that food or seed stock may not be labeled as natural if it has been genetically engineered. The bill exempts products produced without knowledge that the products, or items used in their production, were genetically engineered; animal products derived from an animal that was not genetically engineered but was fed genetically engineered food; and products with only a minimum content produced by genetic engineering. The bill also provides that the disclosure requirements do not apply to restaurants, alcoholic beverages or medical food. The disclosure provisions are administered by the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
An Act To Prohibit Motorized Recreational Gold Prospecting in Certain Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout Spawning Habitats
Protects waterways that contain brook trout and Atlantic salmon spawning habitats by banning motorized gold prospecting. Legislature overturned governor’s veto
An Act To Increase the Period of Time for the Calculation of a Prior Conviction for Operating under the Influence
Prior to this legislation, offenses older than 10 years were not taken into account. This legislation would include the driver’s entire record for felony offenses. Legislature overturned governor’s veto
An Act to Provide Property Tax Relief to Maine Residents
Creates the Property Tax Fairness Fund to provide a mechanism for increasing the cap on the tax credit available to low-income and senior citizens under the property tax fairness credit. Currently, the cap on the credit is $300 for eligible residents under 70 years of age and $400 for eligible residents 70 years of age and older.
An Act To Restore Funding in the Maine Budget Stabilization Fund through Alternative Sources
Restores approximately $20 million to the state’s rainy day fund. This will provide revenue sharing to Maine cities and towns.
Legislation That Failed
An Act Regarding the Issuance of a Permit To Carry a Concealed Handgun
Limits municipalities’ ability to issue permits to carry concealed handguns to only those with full-time police chiefs. It would also ensure that state police manage all background and mental health checks and create a confidential centralized database of permit holders.
An Act to Improve Maine’s Tax Laws
Requires corporations that file unitary income tax returns in Maine to include income from certain jurisdictions outside the U.S> in net income when apportioning income among tax jurisdictions. Purports to increase revenue by $5 million. Amends the law to reduce the use of so-called off-shore tax havens, thus reducing the loss of revenue to the state and establishes a task force to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the biennial report of tax expenditures prepared by the Department of Administrative and Financial Services pursuant to Maine Revised Statutes. The task force shall identify any tax expenditures that may be reduced or eliminated with the goal of achieving a targeted savings of $30 million in FY 2014-15.
An Act To Provide Fiscal Predictability to the MaineCare Program and Health Security to Maine People
Establishes managed care in the MaineCare program and includes requirements for managed care plans and for contracting by the state Department of Health and Human Services for managed care services. The bill specifies how MaineCare members enroll in managed-care plans. The bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services to apply for approval of a Medicaid state plan amendment to allow use of MaineCare funds to purchase available employer-sponsored health coverage and delays implementation of that provision until approval has been granted.
Carolyn Morwick handles government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.