A troubling tactic to push bills through the Legislature with minimum public scrutiny has begun to result in the passage of ill-conceived, irresponsible legislation under the radar screen.
Last year, Maine’s Legislature passed a sweeping overhaul of the State’s health insurance laws. Originally introduced as a four page bill, the bill’s final version was substantially different and many of the final provisions were not subject to a public hearing. At the time, MECEP called attention to the flawed assumptions behind this bill and its adverse impacts on rural residents and small businesses. Once the bill began to take effect, the reality did not match the rhetoric of the bill’s proponents. Significant health insurance rate increases resulting from this legislation have hit small businesses in rural Maine hard, despite assurances to the contrary from this bill’s supporters. In recognition of this, the bill’s proponents offered a “fix” for these issues that is ultimately going nowhere. This hastily crafted law, rammed through with limited public review, left rural small businesses holding the bag for potentially crippling insurance costs.
The latest entry in this “gotcha” legislative sweepstakes is a little discussed proposal, LD 849, to lower Maine’s income tax rate to 4%. This bill, left for dead after last year’s session, has been resurrected and significantly altered without a public hearing. The long term effect will be to reduce revenues by $600 million – that’s almost half the amount of revenue generated by Maine’s income tax at present. When this bill is viewed in combination with last year’s income and estate tax cuts and the Governor’s proposed pension tax cuts, the hit to Maine’s budget is close to $800 million a year. That’s more than 25% of Maine’s current General Fund budget.
Imagine taking $1 out of every $4 off the table and leaving it to future Governors and Legislatures to figure out how to adequately fund education, health care, and other services. This approach won’t make Maine more competitive. It merely binds the hands of future leaders and cannibalizes our ability to invest in a world class workforce and infrastructure. It also means an increasing share of the burden for funding education and other services will shift to local property taxpayers.
This “bait and switch” approach- replacing a bill introduced earlier with a completely revised text and then jamming it quickly through the legislative process without thorough, thoughtful consideration –is not the way Maine people expect their lawmakers to operate. It would far better serve the public interest for legislators to focus their attention on solving existing budget issues and passing a robust bond proposal to fund roads and bridges, communications infrastructure, research and development and other investments that will create thousands of jobs and strengthen Maine’s economy.