What issues will lawmakers debate next session?
Now that lawmakers have adjourned from the First Regular Session of the 129th Legislature, Mainers can finally blink. However, more than 275 bills have been carried over to the next legislative session. We have compiled a list and description of the carry over bills that will hurt or help Maine people. The bills we have prepared testimony for can be found on our page dedicated to the work of the 129th Legislature.
Before we delve into specific bills that will be debated next session, it would be improper not to address the absurd amount of proposed bonding that is being carried over into the second session. The 37 bond proposals we identified total more than $2.1 billion. A table at the end of this article has links to all of these bills and outlines how much they would cost taxpayers (before interest is calculated on this borrowing).
Bills Tabled in the House or Senate
LD 1083: “An Act To Implement Ranked-choice Voting for Presidential Primary and General Elections in Maine”
This bill would establish that presidential elections in Maine are decided by ranked-choice voting. If Maine had ranked-choice voting in 2016, there is a chance the outcome would have been different for Maine’s presidential electors. Considering Hillary Clinton received under 50 percent of the vote, a second round of tabulation would have been necessary. According to data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), enough votes were cast for third-party candidates that Donald Trump could have secured more electoral votes in subsequent rounds of tabulation. LD 1083 retains Maine’s split-vote Electoral College system but determines a winner in the statewide and congressional district elections based on a majority of the votes cast with ranked-choice voting.
Regardless of who wins an election through ranked-choice voting, the system is more complicated and discounts voters’ ballots. If a voter only ranks candidates that are mathematically eliminated from contention, their ballot is essentially thrown out — it’s as if they never showed up on Election Day. Retaining the current plurality system for presidential elections is preferred.
LD 1836: “An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Infrastructure, Economic Development, Workforce Development and Energy and Environment Investment”
This bond package proposed by Governor Janet Mills is completely unnecessary, especially when you consider the state is slated to receive more than $345 million in new revenue over the 2020-21 biennium. If LD 1836 passes through the legislature and voters approve this borrowing at the ballot box, the state will need to cough up more than $57 million in interest on a principal of $239 million over a period of 10 years. In other words, $57 million of taxpayer dollars will be wasted on debt service to provide goods and services that could have been accomplished within our biennial budget.
Unfortunately, Governor Mills proposed (and lawmakers approved) a budget that provides for a massive expansion of the Augusta bureaucracy without addressing some of her other priorities. This bond package would pay for transportation infrastructure, the environment, broadband initiatives and expansion of education and training in the trades. While some of these investments might be worthwhile, the legislature had a chance to fund them in the state budget. In the current economic climate, the state of Maine does not need to fund these types of initiatives through general obligation bonds.
Appropriations and Financial Affairs
LD 741: “An Act To Return Surplus Money to Maine Taxpayers”
If passed, this bill would be beneficial to Maine citizens. This bill would return 75 percent of surplus revenues to the taxpayers and 25 percent to the Budget Stabilization Fund, otherwise known as the rainy day fund. If this law had been in effect when former Governor Paul LePage signed his 2018-19 biennial budget, 75 percent of the nearly $124 million revenue surplus would have been returned to taxpayers.
Instead, that surplus is currently being used to fill funding gaps in Governor Mills’ 2020-21 biennial budget. Revenue surpluses are not pots of money politicians stumble upon haphazardly — they are the direct consequence of collecting more in taxes than the government needs to fulfill its obligations. Every dollar in surplus was taken from a Maine resident who could have used it to pay for basic necessities. Therefore, the legislature should move forward with this proposal in the next legislative session to provide meaningful tax relief to Maine families, who are among the highest taxed individuals in the country.
Education and Cultural Affairs
LD 1607: “An Act To Create the Department of Early Care and Learning”
This bill establishes the Department of Early Care and Learning, which would be responsible for the “high-quality care, health care and education of children younger than six years of age.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey, as of 2017, there were only around 78,000 children under the age of six in Maine. This population is not large enough to create a new executive branch department.
Also, Governor Mills has revived the Children’s Cabinet and lawmakers last session approved a bill that eliminates the Child Care Advisory Council and Maine Children’s Growth Council in favor of a new body called the Maine Children’s Cabinet Early Childhood Advisory Council that will supplement the work of the larger cabinet. New regulatory oversight in this arena would seek to limit affordable early learning options for children and their parents. Over 600 child care providers have left the profession since 2008, which may be attributed to the additional layers of regulation placed on providers from government in the name of safety. Lawmakers should be focusing on how to best serve this population with the tools we currently have instead of creating a new cabinet-level department.
One thing is certain: The creation of this new department will do nothing to make child care and early learning services more affordable or accessible in Maine. In fact, more government control in child care and early learning will almost certainly have the opposite effect.
Energy, Utilities and Technology
LD 1563: “An Act To Encourage the Development of Broadband Coverage in Rural Maine”
While this bill is still a concept draft, it seeks to grow the role of government by expanding broadband in Maine. This bill creates the Maine Broadband Initiative Fund to “provide ongoing funding to high-speed broadband” from unidentified funding sources. While Mainers need access to broadband to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century, the end result does not always justify the means. The Maine Broadband Initiative appears to be a new subsidy or corporate welfare program to “encourage, promote, stimulate, invest in and support universal high-speed broadband.”
The Maine Broadband Initiative would take on the responsibilities of the free market, and would certainly do a worse job at it. The potential for the establishment of government-owned networks (GONs) in Maine under LD 1563 is also troubling. If the Maine Broadband Initiative provides funding to municipalities to construct, maintain, and operate broadband infrastructure, it will bring them one step closer to establishing GONs.
When GONs are established, they discourage private investment in communications infrastructure and dissuade private entities that offer these services from entering a given area. Private companies typically offer their services to make a profit whereas GONs are subsidized by taxpayers or other government entities. This results in the government establishing and maintaining a monopoly over broadband networks in the municipalities that deploy them. In sum, the state of Maine should try to attract new enterprise to Maine for the purpose of developing broadband instead of expanding the size and scope of government.
LD 1646: “An Act To Restore Local Ownership and Control of Maine’s Power Delivery Systems”
This bill would create the Maine Power Delivery Authority — a consumer-owned utility — to acquire and operate all transmission and distribution systems in the state that are currently operated by Central Maine Power Company and Emera Maine.
While some consumers have had difficulties with these companies, this bill is the antithesis of a free market approach and doubles down on what makes Mainers unhappy with their current power billing and delivery service. The Maine Power Delivery Authority would be protected from competition in the free market and would be a government-owned monopoly. Instead of centralizing this privilege in a government-owned entity, lawmakers and regulators should inject competition in the current marketplace. The lack of choice and competition in the current market is what enables the state’s transmission and distribution systems to take advantage of Maine ratepayers.
This ends by creating competition — not through a hostile government takeover of the assets of private companies.
Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services
LD 1611: “An Act To Support Universal Health Care”
This bill would create a universal health care system in the state of Maine. This bill establishes the Maine Health Board, which would be responsible for developing an “equitable and affordable” premium structure based on income and payroll taxes. The cost could be upwards of $12.7 billion based on per capita healthcare costs and the state’s population. While a portion of the cost would be covered by federal dollars, Maine would need to pick up the difference.
When Vermont tried to establish a universal health care plan, the personal income tax was estimated to increase by 9.5 percent and it introduced a payroll tax of 11.5 percent. Vermont eventually backed out of the plan after it became clear it would decimate their economy. Enacting Universal Health Care in Maine would impose crippling taxes on individuals and businesses, undermining our state’s economy.
LD 1617: “An Act To Create a Single-payer Health Care Program in Maine”
LD 1617 would establish the Single-payer Implementation Task Force to make recommendations on how to implement the single-payer health care program established in the bill. The program would phase in coverage to all individuals in Maine by 2026 and would decimate private health insurance. Similar to the Universal Health Care proposal, this initiative would raise taxes and likely lead to rationed care and worse health outcomes for all Mainers. Government-run health care systems simply do not work; a Maine government takeover of healthcare and private insurance would undermine choice and leave Mainers worse off than they were before.
Labor and Housing
LD 402: “An Act To Restore Overtime Protections for Maine Workers”
This bill would be harmful to the state’s business community because it dictates what businesses must pay their employees. LD 402 would raise the minimum salary for employees who work in an executive, administrative or professional capacity to $40,401 in 2020, 47,816 in 2021 and $55,224 by the year 2022 with increases thereafter in order for employees to be exempt from overtime pay. The current minimum salary is $33,000 annually for employees to be exempt from overtime pay.
Maine ranked 45th in the country for doing business in 2018. Because this bill would force employers to increase their employees’ salaries, reduce the hours they work, or pay an exorbitant amount in overtime costs, employers will have new incentive to leave Maine for other states that have less rigorous overtime exemptions or adhere to the federal minimum outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Some of these examples include Florida, New Hampshire, Arizona, Louisiana and Tennessee. This bill, coupled with minimum wage increases and other regulations, would create a burden too large to bear for many Maine employers.
LD 900: “An Act To Expand the Rights of Public Employees under the Maine Labor Laws”
This bill would allow public employees to strike, with exception of those whose duties concern protecting public safety. In the private sector, individuals perform their duties for a business or organization so it can grow and prosper. In the public sector, individuals perform their duties solely for the public. Public sector employees need to be held to a different standard because they are employed to maintain the general welfare of Maine citizens. In contrast, private sector employees are employed to increase production and profits. The difference is stark and the laws governing labor relations should remain separate for that reason.
Another oversight in this legislation is that, while public safety employees are important and should not be allowed to strike, there are other public workers that provide essential services to the public who would be allowed to do so. This disrupts our economy and our communities. If municipal employees or teachers are on strike for a long period of time, town officials may be more willing to give in to demands, even if it means incurring debt or spending funds the town or city cannot afford. This bill may be the most destructive bill carried over in the 129th Legislature.
LD 1410: “An Act To Create Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits”
LD 1410 would establish a paid family and medical leave program administered by the Department of Labor, funded by a .55 percent payroll tax on employees who earn more than $12,000 annually. Even if employees do not use the paid family or medical leave, they are still required to pay the tax.
During the public hearing, it was found that the payroll tax would likely need to be increased to .75 percent in order for the program to be financially solvent. This translates to around $240 annually if an employee earns the state’s average weekly wage of $844.
LD 1639: “An Act To Require Comprehensive Responsible Contracting Practices for Public Construction Projects”
This bill would encourage public authorities to use project labor agreements (PLAs) on large-scale construction projects (>$10 million). However, public authorities can already require PLAs to work on their projects. This bill also requires the wage and benefit rates established in collective bargaining agreements to be included when configuring the prevailing wage. Not to mention, the bill mandates that contractors go through a certification process to be awarded a contract from state government.
PLAs unnecessarily bind contractors and their employees to set wages, pensions and benefits. Because of this, the state would undoubtedly favor unionized contractors during the bidding process, reducing competition for public works projects and ultimately driving up costs. In addition, wages decided by collective bargaining agreements tend to be higher, which would likely increase the prevailing wage. If this bill passes, taxpayers will be stuck with construction bills that include above-market, inflated labor and benefits costs.
A public authority’s primary consideration in entering into a work contract should be how well a contractor can do the work, not whether or not they are covered by a project labor agreement or can sufficiently jump through the hoops established by this bill.
LD 420: “An Act To Amend the Maine Exclusion Amount in the Estate Tax”
This bill would bring the state backwards by changing the exclusion amount at which the estate tax does not apply from $5.6 million to $2 million for estates of decedents dying on or after January 1, 2020. After the death of a loved one, a family is sometimes forced to either sell their business altogether or reduce capital equipment to pay the estate tax liability, oftentimes resulting in the loss of private sector jobs. In the case of land, this bill would increase the likelihood of family members having to sell all or parts of land passed down to them to pay the liability that would be incurred. This change will hurt family farms and other small businesses with illiquid assets.
As of 2017, only fourteen states and the District of Columbia had an estate tax on the books. The estate tax in general is a disincentive for individuals and their families to move to Maine. The legislature would be wise to repeal the estate tax altogether, though killing this bill would be a step in the right direction.
LD 1254: “An Act To Authorize a Local Option Sales Tax on Meals and Lodging and Provide Funding To Treat Opioid Use Disorder”
This bill would allow municipalities to impose a local option sales tax of one percent or less on prepared foods and short-term lodging. The tax would need to be approved via a municipal referendum and the total number of votes cast must exceed 20 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election conducted within the municipality.
While the largest rate that can be proposed under the current language is one percent, this bill is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent and would result in future local-option sales tax rate increases. Municipal officials in Maine will undoubtedly return to the legislature to request a larger allowance after they collect and spend all that the one percent rate has to offer.
A local option sales tax would create a patchwork of different sales tax rates across the state. For example, Portland might institute a tax rate of one percent, but Westbrook could pass one at 0.8 percent. Maine’s taxes are high enough already, and we border a state that hasn’t instituted an income or sales tax. A local option sales tax could increase cross-border consumerism from Maine to New Hampshire if municipalities on the border institute the policy. In sum, a local option sales tax is bad policy that would hurt Maine’s economy and overtaxed citizens.
LD 1647: “An Act To Provide Tax Fairness to Maine’s Middle Class and Working Families”
This bill is another attempt to tax the rich by claiming they do not pay their “fair share.” It would require households that earn $250,000 or more that pay a lower effective tax rate than the “bottom 99 percent of tax families” to pay a tax equalization assessment equivalent to their “fair share.”
This bill is the epitome of class warfare the left is known for, divisively pitting the “wealthy” against the “99 percent.” This conversation would not occur if Maine eliminated the income tax altogether. LD 1647 would give wealthy Mainers new incentive to migrate to other states, such as New Hampshire, that do not impose an income tax. There are already more millionaires per capita in New Hampshire than in Maine and most of the country. People tend to vote with their feet from high-tax states to low-tax states, and Maine would not be an exception if this law were passed.
If the motive behind this legislation is to help the middle class and working families, the goal should be to decrease or eliminate the income tax for all Mainers, not increase taxes on small segments of the population.
|LD #||Bond Bill Title||Amount|
|12||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for the Design and Construction of a New Fish Hatchery and To Improve Hatchery Infrastructure”||$40,000,000|
|16||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Invest in Infrastructure To Address Sea Level Rise”||$50,000,000|
|47||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Invest in Fire Stations”||$25,000,000|
|48||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Invest in Housing for Persons Who Are Homeless”||$15,000,000|
|111||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Research and Development and Commercialization”||$250,000,000|
|126||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Acquire Significant Historic Properties for Resale and Rehabilitation”||$2,000,000|
|148||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Recapitalize the School Revolving Renovation Fund and To Give Priority Status to Certain School Facility Upgrades”||$50,000,000|
|149||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Provide Student Debt Forgiveness To Support Workforce Attraction and Retention”||$250,000,000|
|172||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Invest in Smart City Technology”||$15,000,000|
|295||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Increase Rural Maine’s Access to Broadband Internet Service”||$100,000,000|
|299||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Assist Schools, Municipalities and Counties in Using Emerging Technologies and Energy Alternatives to Fossil Fuels in Heating, Electrical and Other Utility Systems”||$15,000,000|
|310||“An Act Making Certain Supplemental Appropriations and Allocations and Changing Certain Provisions of the Law Necessary to the Proper Operations of State Government”||Concept Draft|
|341||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for the Construction of a Convention Center in Portland”||$150,000,000|
|354||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Encourage the Provision of Reliable High-speed Internet in Rural Underserved Areas of Maine”||$20,000,000|
|381||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Upgrade and Replace Infrastructure of the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation”||$20,000,000|
|394||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Provide for Student Loan Debt Relief”||$50,000,000|
|400||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Food Processing Infrastructure in Targeted Areas of the State”||$20,000,000|
|423||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Preserve Historic Properties for Maine’s Bicentennial”||$5,000,000|
|455||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Expand Maine’s Research, Development, Commercialization and Clinical Infrastructure Assets To Improve Outcomes for Maine Families with Members Suffering from Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Other Diseases of Aging”||$65,000,000|
|469||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Provide Funding for Upgrades of Learning Spaces and Other Projects Funded by the School Revolving Renovation Fund”||$100,000,000|
|535||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Invest in Maine’s Rail Infrastructure and Expand Passenger Rail Service”||$50,000,000|
|537||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Establishment of a Near-shore Coastal Sensor Network”||$2,000,000|
|547||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support Maine Aquaculture”||$25,000,000|
|602||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support Research and Development in Maine”||$50,000,000|
|859||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Fund Equipment for Career and Technical Education Centers and Regions”||$40,000,000|
|861||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Complete the Renovation of a Wharf and Bulkhead in Portland for Marine Research”||$3,000,000|
|911||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Promote Land Conservation, Working Waterfronts, Water Access and Outdoor Recreation”||$95,000,000|
|923||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Upgrade Municipal Culverts at Stream Crossings”||$5,000,000|
|1093||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Invest in Maine’s Railroad Infrastructure”||$50,000,000|
|1119||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support Investments in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in Municipalities and School Administrative Units”||$10,000,000|
|1224||“An Act To Authorize General Fund Bond Issues To Address Changes in Sea Level, Geospatial Data Acquisition by Communities and the Increase in Ocean Acidity”||$14,000,000|
|1333||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Establish a Maine County Correctional Facilities Revolving Construction and Improvement Fund”||$100,000,000|
|1604||“An Act To Authorize General Fund Bond Issues To Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities”||$100,000,000|
|1634||“An Act To Create the Maine Clean Energy Fund and To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Capitalize the Fund”||$100,000,000|
|1692||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Fund Training for Mill Workers and Loggers”||Concept Draft|
|1705||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Strengthen the Marine Economy”||$50,000,000|
|1836||“An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Infrastructure, Economic Development, Workforce Development and Energy and Environment Investment”||$239,000,000|