Daily Brief: LePage targets 2016 for income tax-killing constitutional amendment

Good morning from the State House, where lobbyists are making their policy pitches to lawmakers, legislative committees are taking up a handful of noteworthy bills, and Gov. Paul LePage is boosting a private nonprofit’s efforts to help Maine high school students succeed. 

The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence will be in the Hall of Flags most of the day, speaking with lawmakers about the safety net for victims and their families. The Environmental Priorities Coalition and Maine Conservation Voters also will meet with elected officials for briefings in the Legislative Council chambers. 

Meanwhile, the budget-writing Appropriations Committee will hold public hearings on the first two of Gov. Paul LePage’s supplemental budget bills. For reasons that are still unclear, LePage has submitted roughly 20 emergency appropriations bills, rather than a single supplemental, as is the norm. 

And over in the Agriculture Committee, proponents of the growth and harvest of hemp in Maine will make their case as the panel holds public hearings on two bills to legalize the plant and its products. And the Labor Committee will hear the state’s two prominent labor groups — the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine Education Association — offer their takes on Maine’s labor climate and the plight of workers in the state.

Meanwhile, LePage will join Jobs for Maine’s Graduates to announce a $200,000 grant from AT&T to support a program to help students at Cony High School in Augusta. — Mario Moretto

LePage targets 2016 for constitutional amendment referendum


Photo: Gov. Paul LePage speaks with a member of the Waterville Rotary Club on Monday after delivering a stump speech for his budget proposal. Photo by Mario Moretto.

Gov. Paul LePage is taking questions on his budget proposal and tax reform plan everywhere he goes. On Monday, he was in Waterville, giving a presentation and taking questions at a meeting of the local Rotary Club.

The audience in the Elm City was a friendly one. Many of its members have known LePage for years. The governor, a former Waterville city councilor and mayor, is a longtime member of the city’s Rotary Club.

It was a perfect place for a dry run of LePage’s big road show event later this week — an open, town hall meeting this Wednesday in Westbrook, where he will take questions from the general public about his budget. The governor said he plans to make his case to Mainers at two or three such events every week as budget negotiations takes center stage in Augusta.

In discussing his tax plan, which reduces the state’s top income tax from 7.95 percent to 5.75 percent, LePage reiterated that he sees the reduction as only the beginning. He views the plan as the first step in eliminating the income tax, which he hopes to achieve with a constitutional amendment.

On Monday, the governor revealed his proposed timeline for that plan.

“I am planning to eliminate the entire income tax, and we’re going to have a constitutional amendment sent to the Legislature and hope to have it on the ’16 ballot,” he told the Rotarians.

The governor said during his State of the State address that his amendment would use any excess revenue to ratchet down the income tax over time.

Now, LePage’s referendum is far from a sure thing. The thing hasn’t even been presented to lawmakers yet and, once it is, it will need two-third support in the Legislature before going to voters — a heavy lift given that Democrats still control the House of Representatives.

But the idea of adding it to an already packed election cycle would make 2016 one of the most consequential elections in quite some time. Adding the income-tax killing amendment on the ballot in 2016 would most likely drive conservatives to the polls in droves, boosting the GOP’s prospects in a presidential election year — a time in the election cycle that usually favors Democrats.

And if the presence of a presidential election and potential income tax-killing referendum wouldn’t ratchet up the turnout stakes enough, it’s also the year that proponents of ranked-choice voting will put their referendum out to voters. It could also be the year Mainers vote on whether to legalize marijuana (more on that, below). — Mario Moretto

Marijuana advocates submit referendum for legalization

Legalize Maine, a pro-pot PAC, has submitted to the secretary of state the language of a bill to legalize recreational marijuana. Guess what year they want to put it to a vote …

Yup. 2016.

“Its time to put the question before Maine voters. We are confident that Mainers will support our plan to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana as an agricultural product.” said Paul T. McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine, in a prepared statement. “Marijuana has been an economic engine for Maine’s rural economy for the past 50 years and its time for Mainer’s to decide if they want to legalize that section of the economy or not.”

It’s the latest step in a competition to see which pro-legalization group will win over Mainers at the ballot. Marijuana Policy Project, a D.C.-based group, won the legalization fights in Colorado and has set up shop in Maine, winning symbolic victories to legalize weed in Portland and South Portland.

The disparity between the groups seems to be one of rhetoric: MPP talks about recreational use as a personal choice, arguing that marijuana is safer than alcohol. Legalize Maine’s arguments have centered on Maine’s black market marijuana industry, arguing that legalization would be good for Maine’s economy.

MPP has its own plan to put the legalization question to voters, and its leader in Maine, David Boyer, has said he’s willing to work together with Legalize Maine to get it done. McCarrier  has said he’s not interested in working with an out-of-state group.

“This is a historic moment, not just for Maine, but for the nation. We are the first to put local people before national interests and focus on stimulating our local economies.” he said. “There is no need for a second initiative”.

You can read Legalize Maine’s proposed legislation, here. — Mario Moretto.

Reading List

¡La velocidad de la montaña!

The Bangor Daily News fielded two teams at this year’s U.S. National Toboggan Championships, of which the BDN is a sponsor. One of those teams, La Velocidad de la Montaña, “the fastest Mexican wrestling sled in Camden,” even placed in the top 50. News troubadour Troy R. Bennett was on the team, and made this video to share the experience with you. And yes, there’s a song.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.