The number of important bills pending in the Legislature is significant. The below summary highlights some of the most dangerous and irresponsible bills under consideration.
Freedom of Access Act
LD 1805, “An Act To Implement Recommendations of the Right to Know Advisory Committee Concerning a Public Records Exception for Proposed Legislation, Reports and Working Papers of the Governor”
Gov. LePage has proposed a significant new exemption to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, which would hide from public scrutiny much of the work done in his office. The legislation is an example of overreach and an assault on government transparency and accountability. And even though the legislation in its current form has been improved from the governor’s original proposal, the exemption is still unnecessary and overly broad.
The legislation would allow the governor to hide all “records relating to the deliberative process of the governor.” The governor’s secrecy bill is a threat to good government and the public’s right to know about the actions of the government and to hold elected officials accountable.
LD 1725, “An Act To Strengthen the Unemployment Insurance Laws and Reduce Unemployment Fraud”
Described as an effort to reduce fraud, the bill actually punishes unemployed workers by making it harder for them to qualify for benefits, pushing them to accept lower-paying jobs and reduces benefits by counting vacation pay a worker might receive.
Maine’s unemployment insurance system has remained financially sound as others around the country have required bailouts. The system has an extremely low rate of fraud. The bill unnecessarily tilts the balance of the system away from the unemployed worker and toward the corporations that laid him or her off.
Right to Work, Public Employees
LD 309, “An Act To Make Voluntary Membership in a Public Employee Labor Organization in the State”
LD 309 would restrict the rights of hard-working public employees to collectively bargain. It’s yet another divisive, extreme, and highly partisan proposal from Gov. LePage that is out-of-step with Maine values.
The bill would make it harder for firefighters, nurses, snow plow drivers, state troopers, park rangers, and other public employees to establish safer working conditions for themselves and safer communities for all of us.
It would undermine workers’ ability to negotiate with their employers over wages and working conditions.
And it could make it harder for communities to find and keep the best people for these jobs, which could weaken schools and public safety systems.
Collective Bargaining for Child Care Workers
LD 1894, “An Act To Restore Departmental Management over Costs of State-paid Child Care”
LD 1894 would make it harder for Maine families to find safe, quality child care, by repealing the rights of child care providers to collectively bargain with the state.
The bill would shut Maine’s family child care providers out of discussions on how to address the problem of quality childcare in Maine.
It would also deny Maine’s family child care providers the right to sit down and talk with state decision makers about ways to improve the quality of child care in Maine.
The bill would take away the right of Maine’s child care providers to have a voice in how much they are paid when providing publicly funded services. This could reduce the number of child care providers willing to provide publicly funded services and the quality of available care could be diminished.
LD 1887: “An Act To Restructure the Department of Health and Human Services”
At the same time that the Department of Health and Human Services is struggling to perform even its most basic responsibilities, the governor has introduced a massive reorganization in the last days of the legislative session. The plans are drastic and appear to have been haphazardly constructed.
The reorganization eliminates the Office of Substance Abuse, the Office of Elder and Adult Services, the Office of Adults with Cognitive and Physical Disabilities, the Office of Adult Mental Health Services and the Office of Advocacy. It consolidates responsibilities with the commissioner of the department or privatizes important advocacy responsibilities.
It also grants the governor power to move money within DHHS without appropriate legislative oversight.
Supplemental Budget, separate from DHHS Parts 1 and 2
LD 1903: The second supplemental budget
Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center: The governor’s second supplemental budget, which is different
than Part 2 of the DHHS budget, proposes a number of radical and dangerous changes. It would reduce staff at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor, a facility that cares for an extremely vulnerable population. The reduction is a backdoor way to move the hospital toward closure without having an appropriate policy discussion.
General Assistance: TANF families would no longer be eligible for GA. The proposed budget makes any family that is currently receiving TANF benefits ineligible for General Assistance. The maximum TANF benefit for a family of three is only $485 a month (or $585 if the family’s rent costs more than 75 percent of its income). Many TANF families do not have enough income to pay the rent or make ends meet and must rely on help from GA. Without GA to help them get through an emergency, like an eviction, these families could face homelessness.
GA for housing would be limited to only 90 days a year—even in emergencies. The proposed budget would prevent a family or individual from getting assistance with housing for more than 90 days in a year. Housing is the biggest cost in a family’s budget and it’s the reason most people go to GA for help. Many people without income—like those applying for SSI—need to rely on GA for longer than 90 days. Without this help they will likely become homeless.
State reimbursement to cities and towns that spend the most on GA would be cut drastically. Municipalities like Portland, Bangor, Lewiston, and some others will lose a large amount of the financial help they currently get from the State to pay GA benefits. These are the cities and towns that provide the most GA in the State. The State currently provides a 50 percent match for General Assistance until a town expends a certain amount on GA. Once these municipalities hit this amount, state reimbursement is 90 percent. The budget would cut the match for all GA expenditures to 50 percent. While this should not cause a direct cut in GA for those who need help right away, it will put financial pressure on these municipalities that are already struggling to meet their GA budgets. This may result in less staff to take applications, or even benefit cuts in some locations.
Higher Education: The governor’s supplemental budget includes significant reductions in state support to higher education in Maine, including reductions in funding for the University of Maine, Maine Community College System and Maine Maritime Academy.
Maine Public Broadcasting: The governor has proposed eliminating support for MPBN, an important educational, informational and emergency communications system that serves the entire state.
Tax Cuts: The supplemental budget includes changes in the tax code that will cost $36 million a year beginning next January and explode to $210 million in just seven years. The tax cut in out years is not paid for and will result in either a budget shortfall or a shift of costs onto property taxes.
LD 849: “An Act To Provide Tax Relief for Maine’s Citizens by Reducing Income Taxes”
This bill proposes to ratchet down state revenues by gradually lowering Maine’s income tax rates to a flat 4 percent, cutting income tax revenues by $600 million over time.
Approximately 75 percent of the benefit of this proposal goes to the top 20 percent of taxpayers.
In effect, it cuts tens of millions per year which would otherwise go to the state’s “rainy day” fund, other cash reserves, and funding pools that bring down Maine’s health insurance and retirement liabilities.
The legislation would trigger a revenue death spiral in which one-time money is spent for ongoing tax cuts for top earners while creating an ongoing structural gap that is not paid for. It’s irresponsible fiscal policy that is no different than adopting huge new spending programs and without a plan to pay for them.
LD 1853: “An Act to Improve Environmental Oversight and Streamline Permitting for Mining in Maine”
This after-deadline bill, released near the end of the legislative session, would gut Maine’s mining laws and regulations. This complex and sweeping bill was drafted by the Pierce Atwood law firm and released for “public review” less than 24 hours before the public hearing. The bill would eliminate Maine’s current mining regulations, which took years to write, and Pierce Atwood is pressing hard for the bill to be adopted immediately.
Mining is currently allowed in Maine but with strong safeguards.
The bill is being pushed by Aroostook Timberlands, LLC, a division of J.D. Irving, so that it can have a “streamlined” process for digging an open-pit mine on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.
The mining bill would allow much more groundwater contamination than Maine’s current standards do. Once chemicals seep into the groundwater, they can readily contaminate not only drinking water but lakes, rivers and streams. Cleaning up contaminated ground and surface water is very difficult and expensive.
Mining companies are currently required to put money into a trust for dealing with pollution and mining disasters. The proposed bill allows much less secure methods for keeping that funding adequate and available. And the bill would eliminate current rules that help the public to consider other serious impacts from mining operations, including from noise, dust, water withdrawal, oil spills, and traffic.
The changes would apply to mining anywhere in the state. Without maintaining strong environmental protections, mining could have devastating consequences around Bald Mountain as well as in other areas with similar deposits including at Moosehead Lake, Cobscook Bay and much of Maine’s Downeast coast.
LD 1810: “An Act to Implement Recommendations of the Committee to Review Issues Dealing with Regulatory Takings”
LD 1810 would allow property owners to seek payments from the state – and, consequently, Maine taxpayers – by claiming any new law or regulation (or a combination of regulations) had reduced the value of their property by 50 percent. The property owner would be allowed to ignore Maine law if the State did not pay. This bill departs from well-settled principles of the U.S. and Maine constitutions.
Although municipal zoning would be exempt, towns would not escape problems caused by the “takings” bill. That is why the Maine Municipal Association opposes LD 1810. It would lead to an explosion in lawsuits with huge costs to Maine taxpayers, create an unworkable patchwork of land use laws, have major unintended consequences, and result in countless speculative development schemes.
Health Insurance Exchange
Failure to create a health insurance exchange as envisioned under Obamacare
A health insurance exchange will give individual consumers and small businesses more control, more quality choices, and better protections if and when they need to shop for health insurance. The exchange will maintain a website, similar to Travelocity, that will have easy-to-understand information allowing consumers to make real comparisons –apples to apples – between insurance plans so that consumers can find a plan that best meets their needs and budget. There will also always be a person available to answer questions.
It will make it easy for consumers to compare plans based on value, quality, and service. It will create real competition among plans. It will lower health insurance costs by allowing consumers and small businesses to pool their buying and negotiating power. It will offer more affordable coverage by providing premium assistance/credits to individuals and small businesses.
Impacts on Women
The Governor’s proposed budget has a disproportionate impact on women, including: cutting $3.9 million from child care subsidies, cutting the entire state share of funding for Head Start, cutting $401,000 from Family Planning Services, limiting access to General Assistance, the safety net of last resort, for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Engage Maine: Day of Action Briefing