The first regular session of Maine’s 128th state Legislature was exceptionally challenging, as lawmakers engaged in a bitter fight over the budget while wrestling with four ballot questions approved by voters in the November 2016 election. Lawmakers were divided on Question 2, which was approved by voters and would have imposed a 3% tax on those making $200,000 or more. Funds would be used to support teacher salaries in K-12 school districts. Lawmakers rejected this question, but included $162 million in new funding for K-12 school districts in the budget—providing an additional $48.4 million in FY18 and $113.6 million in FY19.
Days before the July 4 holiday, budget deliberations reached an impasse, resulting in a four-day government shutdown. A compromise was reached by lawmakers, and on July 4, Gov. Paul LePage signed a two-year budget of $7.1 billion. This legislative session lasted nine months, the longest on record.
Part of the final budget included the following:
- New education funding for K-12 school districts in the amount of $162 million (this was the response of legislators who agreed to reject Question 2)
- Budget language to prevent further cuts to support services for children and adults with severe and persistent mental illness
- A transfer of $3 million into Maine Clean Election Fund to provide access to funds for candidates for governor and the Legislature
- An investment of $14.25 million in additional funding for employees serving those with disabilities
- Doubling the number of hours to serve Mainers receiving disability services
- Continues the reimbursement rate for “Critical Access Hospitals” that serve most of Maine’s uninsured residents statewide.
Legislative Action on Ballot Questions 1, 2, 4 and 5
- Question 1 provides for the legalization and regulation of recreational marijuana. Lawmakers passed legislation, subsequently signed by the governor, to delay implementation to February 2018.
- Question 2 imposes a 3% tax on those making $200,000 to fund education. Lawmakers rejected this question, siding with opponents who argued that it would hurt the economy, particularly small businesses, and would leave Maine with one of the highest marginal tax rates in the country.
- Question 4 raises the minimum wage in increments to $12 per hour by 2020. Lawmakers passed LD 673, which restores the tip credit and allows employers to pay tipped workers, half the minimum wage.
- Question 5 provides for rank choice voting. Under this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one has 50% of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the candidate who had been eliminated would have their ballots added to the total of the second ranked candidate. Then the votes would be re-tabulated. This process continues until one candidate has a clear majority of the vote. Lawmakers failed to pass legislation to overturn the voters’ will. The Maine Judicial Supreme Court ruled rank choice voting unconstitutional, but the vote to approve the ballot question still stands.
Legislation Passed, Signed Into LawFirearm RegistryLD 9 An Act to Prohibit the Creation of a Firearms Owners Registry
Prohibits a state agency or political unit from keeping a comprehensive registry of privately owned firearms and the owners of those firearms within its jurisdiction.
LD 820 An Act to Protect Maine’s Clean Water and Taxpayers from Mining Pollution
Bans open-pit mining and other mining operations on public lands, prohibits underwater storage of mine waste, requires mining companies to create a trust fund large enough to cover the costs of cleaning up or treating any environmental contamination on a site for at least 100 years after closure of the mine.
Implementation of Marijuana Legislation
LD 88 An Act to Delay the Implementation of Certain Portions of the Marijuana Legalization Act
Clarifies that marijuana is legal for Mainers age 21 or older, prohibits the consumption of marijuana while operating a vehicle and delays the start of retail sales until February 2018, giving agencies more time to craft and implement rules governing the industry.
Opiates, Treatment of Addiction
LD 952 An Act to Ensure Access to Opiate Addiction Treatment in Maine
Allows but does not require the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to increase Maine’s Medicaid reimbursement rate to methadone providers–currently $60 per person per week, the lowest in the nation.
LD 1089 An Act to Prohibit the Use of Handheld Phones and Devices While Driving
Prohibits a person from using a mobile telephone or handheld electronic device while operating a motor vehicle, unless the phone or device allows for hands-free operation and the hands-free feature is, in fact, being used by a person age 18 or older or the mobile telephone or device is being used to communicate with law enforcement or emergency services personnel under emergency circumstances.
Raises Age to Purchase Tobacco Products
LD 1120 An Act to Reduce Youth Access to Tobacco Products
Prohibits someone who has not reached age 21 from purchasing tobacco products.
Legislation That Failed
LD 1467 An Act to Expand Competitive Skills Scholarships and Strengthen Maine’s Workforce Development Program
Proposes to expand and strengthen the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program that helps low-income, underemployed and unemployed workers acquire new skills needed to obtain good-paying jobs in growing industries. Builds on a successful program that helps Mainers get good jobs, and helps small businesses find workers with the skills they need to succeed.
Higher Education Funding, Tuition and Fees
University of Maine System
For the first time in six years, tuition rates will go up at University of Maine campuses. In-state rates will increase from $8,370 to $8,580 and will go into effect in fall 2017. Of great concern to the University System is $25 million in funding that could be lost in the federal budget proposed by the Trump administration. This includes $8.3 million in indirect costs for federal grants at the University of Maine, as well as several programs that could be cut or eliminated. The Trump budget makes significant cuts for Federal Work Study, Trio, and SEOG grants and eliminates funding for the Sea Grant program.
Maine Community College System
Tuition and fees at Maine’s community colleges will not increase. Tuition and fees average $3,600 per year, which are the lowest in New England.
The FY18 budget funds the Maine Community College Systems Strategic Workforce Initiative at $10 million for strategic initiatives related to occupational programming and statewide workforce development.
Carolyn Morwick directs government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures. Visit here for summaries of the legislative sessions in other New England states.