Editor’s note: This report is compiled weekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent news around state policy, as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.

Tax reform is always hot policy terrain – so how about a tax reform debate for 2013?

Last Thursday Democratic House Majority Leader Seth Berry offered one up in the form of LD 1113, An Act To Provide Tax Fairness to Maine’s Middle Class and Working Families. It’s a concept draft right now (meaning that the final language has yet to be written), but the ideas in the bill are clear:

  1. Equalize the effective state and local tax rates (i.e. increase taxes) that high income Mainers pay relative to the rest of us;
  2. Use the resulting additional tax dollars to partially offset the personal income tax rate cut that just went into effect; and
  3. Pave the way for tax simplification, tax burden reduction and more stable government revenues in the future.

If you want to read more, click here for the bill’s own summary, and read coverage in the PPH and the BDN to see what Rep. Berry has to say about his bill, along with reaction from state house Republicans, the Governor and others. Both news articles detail the tax analysis that underlies the bill’s construction – they’re worth a look.

As hearings before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee have continued on the upcoming two-year state budget, lawmakers have heard repeatedly that they ought to raise taxes instead of cutting state spending. LD 1113 may well factor into the final state budget equation, along with other tax proposals. The Taxation Committee hasn’t scheduled a public hearing on LD 1113 yet, but you can expect one soon.

Every tax reform bill raises hard questions about equity, economic growth and the balance between what we want from government services, and what we’re willing to pay for them. Your lawmakers will want to hear what you think about this bill, and the larger issues it raises. Please make sure they do.

Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:

Speaking of taxes … tomorrow the legislature’s Taxation Committee will work on several bills designed to create ‘e-fairness.’ The term describes what many small retail business owners want – a level playing field where sales tax is collected equally from bricks and mortar customers, and from online shoppers.

Curtis Picard, Executive Director of the Retail Association of Maine, made a strong case for action to level the playing field in his testimony on LD 346, An Act to Require the Collection of Sales Tax by any Business Making Sales to Persons in Maine and LD 319, An Act to Provide Tax Fairness to Small Businesses in the State. It’s well worth reading.

If you want to weigh in with members of the Taxation Committee just use the link and send them an email.

Spotlight Legislation: The Governor grabbed the spotlight last week with his $100 million dollar transportation bond proposal. Many Maine business groups cheered LD 1095 as needed investment in Maine’s transportation systems, and a shot in the arm for the construction industry. Read coverage of the bill in the PPH, BDN, LSJ and on MPBN, and comment from the LSJ editors and Doug Rooks.

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will take up the bill later this spring – if you want to tell them what you think just use the link.

In the State House: Debate continued over the Governor’s plan to repay Maine hospitals with a bond supported by a contract for the state’s liquor business ( BDN, PPH). Richard Nass wrote in support of the Governor’s plan, while Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall explained his alternative bill ( PPH). The Governor had said he would veto all bills until his proposal was passed, but last week he relented ( PPH, BDN).

Former Governor Baldacci reiterated his interest in running for Governor in 2014 ( BDN).

State Policy round-up:

  1. Ballot watch: The BDN editors lamented the lack of support for a bill to limit leadership PAC’s. Supporters of the Maine Clean Elections Act spoke against budget cuts to the program ( MPBN). A bill to require runoff election had a public hearing ( MPBN).
  2. Bonds: The Governor was frank about his intention to hold off on issuing approved bonds until his hospital debt repayment proposal was approved ( BDN).
  3. Budget: Last week the two year budget hearings turned to education funding with strong opposition to flat state funding for local schools, but less objection from higher education leaders ( BDN, MPBN, PPH) – meanwhile the Governor defended his proposals ( PPH). The Maine Municipal Association has set up a webpage to track the budget process ( BDN). Alan Caron offered his perspectives on cuts and taxes and strategic budgeting.
  4. Economic Development: Harold McWilliams commented on demographics and growth while Ben Berman wrote about keeping Maine talent in Maine. As I discussed last week, LD 90, the workforce training bill from the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, had a warm reception at its public hearing ( PPH).
  5. Education: The Governor led an education summit last Friday in Augusta that featured national experts on school choice ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Alan Hinsey talked about the success of the ‘Many Flags’ program as a new model for educational collaboration ( MaineBiz). The BDN editors discussed the issues around switching from laptops to iPads in schools.
  6. Energy: The Governor and some in Maine’s construction industry raised concerns over one company’s project labor agreement for its Kennebec County natural gas project ( BDN, PPH).
  7. Environment: The Board of Environmental Protection reversed a DEP denial of a wind project proposed for Passadumkeag Mountain ( BDN). The PPH editors urged state government to re-engage in climate change adaptation planning. Scott Thistle in the LSJ looked at the merging oil sands debate in Maine.
  8. Health Care: The Governor moved his position on expanding Medicaid in Maine, saying that he’d do so if the state got more flexibility from the federal government ( PPH, BDN). While some conservatives balked ( PPH), a state house rally urged expansion ( BDN), as did the BDN editors, the PPH editors, the Bangor Chamber ( PPH) and Sara Gagne-Holmes and Garrett Martin.
  9. Labor: LD 611, the bill to increase Maine’s minimum wage, won Committee approval on a party-line vote ( PPH, BDN) – J. Scott Moody wrote about the negative impacts of minimum wage increases on our economy, while Dustin Hamalainen took the opposite view.
  10. Transportation: A hearing on a bill seeking disclosure of working agreements surrounding the East/West highway drew many people opposed to the project ( PPH, BDN, MPBN).

Around the Region: Stephen Gorden wrote to advance the idea of county home rule as a way to get more effective, efficient local government. It looks like tolls on I-295 will require Congressional action ( PPH). Elsewhere:

  1. In Falmouth the preliminary school budget looks for a 4.5% increase, less than expected ( Forecaster).
  2. In Cumberland both the municipal budget ( Forecaster) and the SAD 51 school budget ( Forecaster) are going up.
  3. In Gorham the Council has postponed voter approval of the high school renovation ( Current). The next school budget does not include all day kindergarten ( Current).
  4. In Portland School Board Chair Jaimey Caron gave a State of the Schools speech that emphasized winning the competition against charter schools ( PPH, Forecaster). Meanwhile Superintendent Manny Caulk’s budget proposal remains pending ( Forecaster) as the School Board looks for more cuts ( PPH). Elsewhere:
  5. Mayor Michael Brennan asked the Maine Attorney General to investigate Baxter Academy ( PPH, BDN, MPBN), and today Baxter officials meet with the Maine Charter School Commission ( PPH);
  6. Portland has agreed to more than $50,000 in EPA fines for sewage discharges ( PPH, BDN);
  1. The Bayside ‘Midtown’ project received Planning Board approval for taller buildings ( PPH); and
  2. For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.
  3. In South Portland City Manager has suggested more cuts in the municipal budget ( Forecaster).
  4. In Scarborough the Council took a look at both the municipal and school budget proposals ( Forecaster, Current).
  5. In Westbrook plans for a large shopping center off the Turnpike have dimmed ( PPH).

Contact your local officials: Visit our website to find links to all your municipal and state house officials. Remember – if you don’t speak out, the people who represent you have no way to know what you think. So keep those email, calls and visits coming.

Digging Deeper at the State House: Most of you probably don’t want to find daily schedules at the state house, research copies of every piece of testimony submitted at every public hearing, track the status of a particular bill, find contact info for Committees, or House members, or Senators, or listen to public hearings on the computer, or watch selected state house proceedings on MPBN’s Capitol Connection. But if you do, just follow the links. The state house is increasingly accessible to the public, at least to those who put in a little work.

Back issues: Miss a Policy Update? Want to find that story or link that you lost track of? Just click here for recent back issues of Policy Update.

Feedback: What do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email to share your feedback with me – and thank you!

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