Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers are supposed to adjourn in less than a month, but not before they settle a looming conflict over a benignly titled “tax conformity” bill rolled out officially last week by Gov. Paul LePage.
We got an initial look at the Republican governor’s proposal — which would cost $88 million in 2018 and $115 million next year — early this month. Business groups are firmly behind it, but progressive groups are assailing it as a package tilted toward rich people.
What does it look like again? It’s Maine’s plan to conform to the federal tax changes passed by congressional Republicans last year. It would mirror it in part by replacing a personal exemption that was axed under the federal law with a new zero percent tax bracket and a non-refundable child and dependent tax credit. It would give businesses up-front deductions on certain purchases, lower Maine’s corporate income tax and double the estate tax exemption.
We’re already seeing familiar lines drawn on taxes — with a new twist. Business groups, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine restaurant and innkeepers’ association, support the bill. But the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy has said the changes “go further” than simple conformity, relying on the state’s rosy increased revenue projections to “deliver tax breaks skewed to the wealthiest households.” Groups that worked to pass Maine’s Medicaid expansion referendum in 2017, which has been stalled by LePage so far, also want expansion funded with the new revenue.
This fight will likely end in some sort of compromise deal. Not conforming at all with the federal package would make taxes harder to file and administer in Maine, while conforming fully would result in a large tax increase, so Republicans and Democrats both have incentives to get a conformity deal done. In Maine’s 2016 conformity deal, Republicans got $38 million in tax cuts for $15 million in extra education funding that Democrats wanted.
What does it mean? For LePage, it’s a final chance to cement a tax-cutting legacy before he leaves office early next year. For Democrats, it may be their last chance to take him on ahead of a must-win 2018 election. For Republican legislative leaders (three of whom are running for governor), it’s something to campaign on in what may be a difficult 2018 campaign to keep the Senate and win the House of Representatives.
Today in A-town
The House and Senate don’t return until Tuesday but a couple of committees are working today. The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee starts around 10 a.m. Its agenda includes public hearing on a bill sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, to prioritize funding in a revolving loan renovation fund for school security upgrades. Take a look at the full committee schedule by clicking here.
- The Department of Health and Human Services changed the way it processes child abuse reports last spring. The move was intended to reduce the number of cases handled by the department’s Child Protective Services division through the use of a formula called “structured decision making.” The department says the change was meant to formalize the process but advocates say it reduced protections for at-risk children.
- The LePage administration has spent at least $110,000 on lawsuits since last fall and more than half a million during the past four years. Among those costs are two lawsuits LePage has pending against Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills for joining a national legal effort to protect young immigrants and refusing to provide public records related to her opposition of President Donald Trump’s immigration ban attempts. Also contributing the costs is a long-running suit against LePage by former Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.
- Angus King called the Trump administration’s firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe “mean-spirited.” McCabe, who has been under fire from the administration for months for his handling of investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, was fired last week after 20 years with the FBI and within two days of his scheduled retirement. His firing means he could lose retirement benefits. Maine’s independent senator made the comments during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
- Most Maine school districts have burned through their allotment of snow days this year, so what will they do? Some schools have added time to every school day, while others are swapping out teacher workshop days. In some years, the Maine Department of Education has opted to waive the requirement that each district have at least 175 school days per year.
Near-unanimous positive feedback except from the one who really counts
I received a lot of texts and emails for the item in Friday’s Daily Brief about building my son’s Pinewood Derby car. They included a number of suggestions about how to make the car fast, including where weight should be added and whether wheels should be installed perfectly straight or slightly tilted. There is a lot of disagreement on these points and others, making it clear that no magic formula exists.
As for my kid, his car finished in the top half of all competitors and within 0.2 seconds of the leader. He won “Most Unusual Shape,” sending him home with a medal and a smile. It was a good day.
As for my Daily Brief reflections, only one person took issue with it, and it was for the soundtrack.
“If you’d asked me, I’d have told you there’s only one appropriate soundtrack for that,” said my wife the moment I saw her Friday afternoon. I will check with her first in the future. Here’s your amended soundtrack.
Sorry, dear. — Christopher Cousins
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.