The best carry-over bill of the 130th Legislature: LD 327
On Wednesday, January 5, the members of the 130th Maine Legislature convened at the State House in Augusta for the first day of the Second Session. Traditionally, the Second Session is deemed to be an “emergency” session, where lawmakers mainly deal with bills carried over from the First Session, any Governor’s bills, budget items, and the “emergency” legislation granted by a vote of the Legislative Council, a body made up of 10 members of legislative leadership, with the balance of power dependent on party control.
Lawmakers ultimately passed what is known as a “joint order,” a procedural document to set the business of the Legislature. The order maintains the Legislative Council’s adopted COVID-19 Prevention Policy and specifies that committee meetings held remotely carry the same weight as any other legislative meeting, allowing lawmakers to log onto their committee hearings and work sessions remotely instead of appearing in-person at the State House.
As was required during the First Session, members of the public who wish to deliver live testimony this session must also be logged onto Zoom, It does appear that the public, though not explicitly limited from accessing the State House, may not find much of anything if they enter the building.
Of all the bills carried over from last session, one bringing the sort of common-sense governing philosophy that Mainers should expect from their elected representatives in Augusta is LD 327, sponsored by Rep. Jeffery Hanley of Pittston and Sen. Trey Stewart of Aroostook. Currently in the form of a “concept draft” containing only a title and summary but no official legislative language, it expresses the sponsors’ desire to “return surplus money to Maine taxpayers.”
Sponsors of concept drafts are allowed to submit official bill language before the bill’s first public hearing. The Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs is set to hear LD 327 on Wednesday, January 12 at 10am.
The bill summary proposes what is sometimes referred to as a “cascade” for revenue received over what the state has already appropriated. Indeed, this bill would only be in effect if state tax revenue exceeds spending, so it would cost nothing. The current summary sets out that 75% of excess revenue would be sent back to Maine taxpayers and the remaining 25% would go to the Budget Stabilization Fund (BSF), also known as the “Rainy Day Fund.”
Recently, Rep. Hanley has expressed his desire to alter the cascade so that 90% is returned to taxpayers and 10% goes to the BSF. Ideally, this mechanism would be executed every 2 years, in order to build in a culture and expectation among the public that state government doesn’t spend more than it needs, and it gives back to the people when it has extra money.
As long as the revenue projections play out in reality, this would mean that Mainers would get about $740 million back via LD 327’s automatic tax rebate. Considering the state takes in about $1.8 billion every year in income taxes, this could mean real relief for hundreds of thousands of Mainers. For instance, it could be used to provide a 100% tax cut for every Mainer making less than $50,000 this year, and offer a considerable tax cut of around 15-30% for middle and upper income taxpayers as well. The projected 10%-more-than-expected revenue forecast covers the next two budget cycles, so LD 327 provides lawmakers an opportunity to commit to Mainers’ much-needed structural tax reform, at least through calendar year 2024.
This bill is a breath of fresh air, a common-sense move to ensure that the government does not spend more than it must to meet its obligations, and a promise that, in the event of excess state revenues, politicians are not empowered to spend even more.
There’s no doubt that the state has benefitted from billions in federal resources over the past year, used to drum up spending across the state budget, but can the same be said of working Mainers facing an economy with record inflation and stagnant job growth?
It’s time lawmakers made the people of Maine the priority.