School funding, tax reform in limbo in Maine
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine lawmakers and Republican Gov. Paul LePage are blaming each other for legislative inaction during the run-up to a crucial campaign season.
No action has been taken on funding for nursing homes, schools, expanded drug treatment amid the opioid crisis or numerous other issues. Lawmakers have passed about 100 laws this year, most of them minor.
The Legislature also failed to extend its legislative session to finish up some of the work because of opposition from House Republicans. Lawmakers have no concrete plans to return for a special session to finish up work on more than 100 pending bills and bonds.
Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers say legislative inaction won’t lead to crisis. But advocates and citizens who have protested at the Statehouse in recent months say important issues are being ignored, creating uncertainty.
Lawmakers passed about 100 laws this year, many of them minor.
There’s a law to allow cash prices for certain charity raffles. Another increases how long a temporary sign may be placed in a public right-of-way. And another allows restaurants will to serve alcohol in outdoor seating areas that aren’t adjacent.
Two bills direct more than $3 million in federal funds to efforts to help low-income parents obtain degrees and certificates and help families impacted by substance abuse find housing, child care and other services.
Lawmakers also passed $45 million in tax credits over 15 years to Bath Iron Works shipyard.
State regulators can start drafting rules to allow commercial pot sales, perhaps beginning as early as next year, thanks to another law. Other new laws target prescription drug price transparency, allow over-the-counter Narcan to Mainers of all ages and protect aspects of the federal health care law if repealed by Congress.
CARE FOR THOSE WITH DISABILITIES
The two-year, $7.1 billion state budget gave workers who serve people with developmental disabilities a pay reimbursement hike.
But that raise ends in July.
Lawmakers have not acted on more than $20 million in funding to continue such raises. Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon originally wanted to consider such legislation in a package including start-up Medicaid expansion funding opposed by Republican House Leader Ken Fredette.
Fredette also wants lawmakers to roll back future increases in the voter-approved minimum wage law.
Maine is expected to need about 2,500 new nursing assistants, personal care and home health aides by 2024.
Bangor resident Monica Bates told lawmakers last year that she worked long hours each week at an agency serving people with intellectual disabilities. “Having to work so much overtime puts a strain on my overall health and wellbeing, which carries over into my job and eventually causes burn-out,” she wrote to lawmakers.
Several Republicans and business groups say Maine must act now to update its tax code to prevent headaches for tax filers and the state ahead of next year’s tax season.
Some lawmakers have suggested Maine can wait until January to make needed changes, but LePage said such a move would be a “disaster” for businesses and the state’s tax agency.
A handful of Republicans and Democrats have been trying to hash out a compromise to update Maine’s tax code in light of the recent federal tax overhaul.
Republican Sen. Dana Dow, who’s worked on such efforts, has warned that Maine taxpayers who use online programs such as TurboTax could find themselves unable to use it for state returns.
“If we fail to act on tax conformity this session, this is exactly what will happen,” he wrote in a column.
A spokeswoman for TurboTax dismissed the concerns.
“Every year there are federal and state tax law changes, and TurboTax is prepared and ready to update the product regardless of when that decision is made,” spokeswoman Ashley McMahon said.
The Department of Education says lawmakers must act on a bill in order to set the figures used for calculating $1 billion in school funding.
Still, there’s a plan for schools to get at least some funding even if lawmakers don’t act by July 1. The state said schools should move forward setting their budgets.
Smaller subsidy amounts would be distributed until the Legislature acts, said Rachel Paling, the department’s communications director.
Leaders of the Maine School Management Association worry that could set a bad precedent by taking funding decisions out of lawmakers’ hands.