Tax conformity votes in AFA

This morning the Appropriations committee met to hold a public work session on tax conformity.

Audio of today’s meeting is here.

Sen. Valentino opened with a motion to immediately fund and approve full tax conformity for the pending filing period.

Identified sources of funding for this motion are:

Tax Relief Fund                 $9.5M

Unneeded debt service   $6.1M

Personal Services             $1.2M

Total                                   $16.8M


Speaking to the motion, the Senator expressed everyone’s commitment to considering the second year of tax conformity in the rest of session but recognized the urgency of providing filers with information today for this filing period.

Rep. Rotundo expressed everyone’s support for tax conformity and for stability but she also listed some of the pending issues that will require funding and should be considered as part of an entire picture.

  • Law enforcement raises
  • Drug crisis
  • $23M in education funding
  • Veterans commission
  • Provider tax fix
  • Toxicology tests for the Medical Examiner
  • County jail funding
  • Potential federal clawback of Riverview Psychiatric Center funding

The motion at the time received a party line vote of 6-5 with Sen. Valentino’s motion prevailing.


CTE funding & tax conformity

This afternoon the AFA committee convened for a public hearing on Rep. Fecteau’s $25M career and technical education equipment bond issue, LD 1512. A discussion on workforce issues and another on tax conformity followed.

Audio of today’s meeting is here.

Commissioner Rosen of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) then joined the committee to discuss retention and recruitment issues regarding the state workforce.

Based on Rep. Winsor’s carried over bill, LD 1032 the Commissioner referred to a few initiatives including the following :
Age transitions plan
Defined benefit retirement plan that includes Social Security for new employees

Rep. Martin asked when the administration plans to share its law enforcement supervisor pay parity initiative. The Commissioner stated this has already been sent to the Criminal Justice committee. Sen. Davis’s bill does not identify sources to fund these pay increases. Further, I have been led to believe that a further more expansive bill has yet to be released.

Members then asked the Commissioner to elaborate on the sources identified by the Administration to offset the costs of LD 1564, tax conformity. That bill is currently held but a Joint Order passed the House this morning allowing AFA to report a bill on this issue.

Commissioner Rosen provided the committee with a list of sources.

$4.3M fund balance
$9.5M Tax Relief Fund ($50M is needed to trigger the law pertaining to this fund)
$15,000 unneeded Veterans exemption reimbursement
$6.1M in unneeded debt service
$262,000 DEP
$13.5M in Personal Services lapsing balances
$1.4M Projected increase in Casino funds for education
$3M from funds for the efficient delivery of services both local and educational
$300,000 Dirigo Health lapsed balances
$151,331 Audit recoveries
Total $38.7M
These are all one-time sources of funding.

Members, including Rep. Martin asked about ongoing sources and what other needs the Administration plans to bring forward this session, like pay equity for law enforcement supervisors considering the Administration’s proposal to spend $13.5M in Personal Services funds for conformity.

The committee will take up tax conformity again tomorrow at 10:00 AM when the public has more notice.

Final committee action on drug bill

Appropriations met this afternoon to hold work sessions on a number of bills including LD 1537, “An Act To Combat Drug Addiction through Enforcement, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery”.

Audio of today’s work session is here.

The committee was provided with a packet of information and drafts resulting from Friday’s work session.

Part A
Discussion on Friday touched on the use of the word “grant” or “contract.” The committee decided to use neither term instead stating that “funds will be provided.”

Part B
Regarding the issuance of grants to local law enforcement and county jail initiatives the majority accepted the recommendation of the majority of the policy committee to have the AG distribute these funds.

Part C
The geographic question raised on Friday about the location of a new 10 bed social detoxification center was addressed by retaining the language suggested by the policy committee of “northern or eastern area of the State.”

Part D
The word “grant” was treated the same as in Part A.

There was extensive discussion about whether or not funds appropriated for peer support recovery centers should lapse at the end of the fiscal year. The majority of the committee not make changes.

Part E
No concerns were raised.

Part F
Part F identifies the S&P settlement as the source of funding for a great deal of the expenditures of this bill. Rep. Winsor suggested that the S&P funds not be used recommending instead the Fund for a Healthy Maine as a source. This was not met with enthusiasm.

Part G
The Judiciary’s request that they be allowed to use $240,000 of Personal Services funds for All Other purposes to reduce the criminal docket backlog was approved.

Final Votes
The final vote was Ought to Pass as Amended 9-4.  Timberlake, Sirocki, Nutting and Winsor submitted a minority report with the following deviations from the Majority Report.

  • In Part B designate the Department of Public Safety as the disperser of funds to support local and county law enforcement.
  • Lapse all funds at the end of fiscal year
  • Use Fund for a Healthy Maine instead of S&P settlement funds

The bill should be considered on Thursday.

Work session on drug crisis response

The Appropriations committee met this morning to conduct a work session on LD 1537, “An Act To Combat Drug Addiction through Enforcement, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery”.

Audio of today’s work session is here.

Part 1
Part 2

Audio of Tuesday’s public hearing is here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

Testimony from Tuesday is here.

Report backs from the policy committees were considered.

Criminal Justice supported the bill as drafted by a vote of 10-2.

Votes against seem to be motivated by a misunderstanding of the need for funding for the 10 Maine Drug Enforcement Agents.

Health and Human Services supported an amended bill by a vote of 6-2.

The amendments include:

  • Broadening the geographic area to “northern or eastern Maine with high rates of opiod use and accessible to related services and supports” from “the greater Bangor area.”
  • “a 10 bed” detoxification center to “with at least 10 beds”.
  • Direct the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to periodically report to the Health and Human Services committee (HHS) about the implementation of detoxification beds
  • Clarified that the contract for peer support recovery centers will be issued to a “statewide organization with expertise and experience in substance abuse prevention, treatment and peer recovery services” instead of a named entity. The contract will be issued within 60 days of the effective date of the legislation.
  • In addition to the purposes listed in the bill the centers are to be responsible for:
    • Linking people in recovery to career resources
    • Maintain and make available a directory of substance abuse providers and prevention and recovery resources

Rep. Sanderson provided her own letter from afar. The Department also provided a response to questions it had received.

The Judiciary committee also indicted their support, weighing in particularly on a request from the Judicial branch to be allowed to use $240,000 in Personal Services savings for the All Other expenses related to reducing the existing backlog of criminal trials.

Led by Sen. Valentino, the Appropriations committee discussed reducing the funding transferred from the Gambling Control Board from the proposed $1.6M to $1.23M based on the actual cost of providing 10 additional agents. The funds provided may not be either transferred or lapsed in the current biennium. The committee further requires that the Commissioner of Public Safety report progress on this effort to both the Appropriations and Criminal Justice and Public Safety committees.

Amended as noted above, Part A was unanimously approved.

Turning to Part B, Rep. Nutting suggested that responsibility for issuing grants for local treatment initiatives move from the Office of the Attorney General to the Commissioner of Public Safety. AFA did not resolve this matter today.

The rest of Part B was unanimously approved unanimously.

Part G, concerning the request of the Judicial branch was also unanimously approved.

Addressing Part C, Rep. Winsor raised concerns about the use of the word “grants” and what appeared to be his discomfort with the subjective nature of the terms “northern” or “eastern”.

These matters were not resolved either.

The rest of Part C was unanimously approved.

Part D providing resources to increase the availability of peer support recovery centers was also not resolved.

Rep. Sanborn proposed that Part E be amended to make it clear that individual, group and intensive services are included.

Discussion on Part F centered on the source of funding. The Office of the Attorney General provided a suggested amendment.

No resolution was reached on either Parts D or E either.

The committee will reconvene Tuesday afternoon.

AFA Update: Thursday November 5, 2015- Drug Summit, Blind and Visually impaired Services, etc…

Appropriations met to consider off session matters including the recent drug summit, progress on establishing the cold case unit, changes to the Division of the Blind and Visually Impaired, a confirmation hearing and questions for the Departments of Health & Human Services and Transportation.

No Commissioners nor other representatives of the departments agreed to be present. Though the Governor made an unannounced visit.

Audio of today’s hearing is here.

Information received by the committee is here.

Drug Summit

AG Mills presented thoughts and updates regarding the Governor’s drug summit held in August.

Work now is ongoing with the Maine Opiate Coalition

3 subgroups are meeting around the state

  • Education/Prevention
  • Treatment including medication assisted treatment
  • Law Enforcement

Then the Governor joined the audience. Rep. Timberlake asked him to speak at roughly 39 minutes into the meeting.

Highlights of the Governor’s comments*
The Governor shared that the administration isn’t using the summit to develop a comprehensive strategy to address addiction.

He claims that he wants to ask leadership to meet next week to ask for more resources otherwise he will use the National Guard. (This is the first indication of this to Leadership)

The goal is not to incarcerate addicts.

Focus of the administration is supply side.

When asked what resources he wants to ask Leadership to provide the Gov responds that he wants 10 more agents, more prosecutors and judges.

Addressing treatment the Governor claims there are no resources. He claims that Doctors want General Practitioners to provide these services. Testimony regarding the Governor’s proposal to eliminate reimbursement for methadone directly contradicts this claim.

Acknowledged the need for inpatient treatment

The Governor renewed his call to eliminate methadone

The Governor will not submit supplemental budgets

Governor will not adhere to budgets but will instead spend until he runs out and then “let you know” he then will lay people off

Intends to call National Guard as law enforcement officers

The Governor departed approximately 1 hour and 25 minutes into the meeting.

*These are not direct quotes. Please refer to audio for direct quotes

Cold Case

AG Mills shared information with the committee about the ongoing work to staff and activate the cold case unit as funded in the biennial budget. Hiring is ongoing as is work to coordinate resources.

Sen. Valentino introduced the concerns of families with communications issues. AG Mills noted that victim’s advocates are to be in place to assist with communication.

Division of the Blind and Visually Impaired (DVBI)

Roughly 1 hour and 40 mins into the meeting the committee turned to address changes to the Department of Labor’s Division of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Materials from the Department of Labor are here.

Over the summer a growing chorus of concerns has been brought forward about changes in services to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Some of those change:

  • The current director of DVBI is on administrative leave
  • The department has notified the deputy director that their position is being eliminated
  • 4.5 positions have been eliminated
  • A belief that the Administration is seeking to merge some functions with Vocational Rehabilitation and disburse other functions among various departments

Rep. McClellan of Standish, in his role as Executive Director of the Maine Statewide Independent Living Council noted that the consumers following him may contradict the narrative that there are no problems with the administration’s actions.

McClellan asserted that the budget and staffing, “may not add up”.

Mel Clarrage Chair of the State Independent Living Council and the President of the Maine Federation of the Blind shared his perspective.

Kathy Depres, Chair of the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) asserted that poor planning has created the current situation. She also noted that it is difficult to believe that a division can make a $1M mistake in a $4M budget. The SRC was not informed of shortfalls until June. Again, the shortfall was one quarter of the budget.

Bud Lewis, former director of DVBI shared his belief that poor budget planning has occurred.

A series of consumers presented their view that services have diminished and that the Administration is not being transparent about its plans for services provided by DVBI.

Confirmation Hearing for the Maine Public Employees Retirement System

Brian Noyes of South Freeport has been nominated by the Governor to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. The committee unanimously recommended the confirmation of this appointment to the full Senate.

Questions for the Department of Human Services

Rep. Sanborn raised the inefficient nature of the current written question and answer exchange with the Department. She highlighted instances where questions have been asked repeatedly without full and adequate answers from the department.

Disposition of the Former Transportation Property in Augusta

At the request of Sen. Katz the committee entertained questions for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) regarding recently reported plans to consolidate state services at a to be leased location adjacent to the Capital campus. Questions were raised linking this proposal to a plan aired during the session.

Questions for the Department of Transportation

Rep. Rotundo asked that the following questions be forwarded to the Department of Transportation.

Questions from Appropriations Committee to DOT Commissioner Bernhardt

There are two areas of concern – cuts to the Regional Planning Offices and the proper implementation of the Lewiston-Auburn Rail Study.  The questions about the Regional Planning Offices are appropriate for us because the Transportation Committee is not currently meeting, and the Lewiston-Auburn Rail Study is included in the biennial budget.

Area 1 – Cuts to the Regional Planning Offices (RPOs)

The RPOs historically have been very involved in the planning process for state transportation projects.

DOT is planning on drastically cutting their funding– by 75% in the case of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments (from $50,000 to $12,500).

There is a long standing relationship between DOT and the RPOs – it one of the only mechanisms for municipalities to provide input into DOT planning for future projects.

What has changed to justify this change in policy at DOT?

In order to effectively plan for regional transportation projects the RPOs rely on stable funding from the DOT.  If the DOT is concerned about how the funding to the RPOs is being spent, couldn’t they simply work with the RPOs on improving and strengthening guidelines rather than drastically cutting funding?

The RPOs are about the only avenues that municipalities have for input into the planning process.  How is the DOT going to continue to meet federal requirements for local review and input for transportation planning if the RPOs are being cut out of the process?

Area 2 – The Lewiston- Auburn Passenger Rail Planning Study

Parts Part A-71 (pages 589-90) and Section YY (pages 648-649) of the biennial budget (PL 267) call for DOT to study and develop a plan for passenger rail service between the cities of Lewiston and Auburn and the Amtrak Downeaster service.

The cities of Lewiston and Auburn have now paid their match to allow the project to move forward.  The legislation clearly states that it shall develop the plan in consultation with the cities of Lewiston and Auburn.

It is our expectation that DOT will meet with the appropriate city officials in Lewiston and Auburn to work on the details of this project.  The Committee would like to know the following:

What specific plans does DOT have to work with the cities of Lewiston and Auburn to live up to the language of the law?

We would also like periodic updates on steps to be taken to work with Lewiston and Auburn throughout the project. , including a date for the first meeting.

AFA Update- October 13, 2015

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee held an off session meeting today to explore items of ongoing concern.

Audio of today’s meeting is here.

AFA heard from Sandy Matheson, Executive Director of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (MePERS) about the current performance of the state’s retirement funds. 2015 was characterized as a “challenging” year. The current balance of the fund is $12.1B as of today.

ED Matheson’s materials are here.

The committee held a pair of work sessions on MePERS legislation.

LD 212, An Act Concerning Cost-of-Living Adjustments for Certain Retirees

LD 927, An Act To Remove the Age Penalty for State Retirees Working at Institutions That Are Closing for Purpose of Guiding Fiscal Impact Estimates

The committee voted to explore cost effective informal estimates of the fiscal impacts of these bills and will consider that information at their November meeting.

Without the participation of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) AFA expressed concerns about the pending RFP of the Mental Health Crisis system.

In an echo of the situation regarding non-emergency MaineCare transportation, DHHS is seeking to create a unified statewide mental health crisis system to replace the current locally based mental health crisis system.

Providers came forward to share their concerns about pending changes. Lawmakers formulated questions for the Department that will be submitted to the Governor as he has requested.

Rep. Rotundo submitted additional questions regarding what is seen as the dismantling of the Division of the Blind and Visually Impaired within the Department of Labor. According to communications from providers and consumers the Department is seeking to collapse the Division into the Vocational Rehabilitation program. Consumers feel that they have not been duly consulted as required by statue. They also point to position eliminations in the Division.

Documents provided by providers are here, here and here.

After lunch the Director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Oversight (OPEGA), Beth Ashcroft shared the OPEGA report, “Office of Information Technology Follow-up Review”

The Office of Information Technology (OIT) continues to face challenges:

Issues OPEGA noted during this review:

  • Lack of executive-level governance for information technology adversely affects the State’s ability to address critical information technology matters.
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity planning efforts have not mitigated risks associated with potential disasters or catastrophic system failures.
  • Data governance and analytics capabilities and practices are inconsistent across the Executive Branch and are at an immature level.
  • Roles, responsibilities and expectations of OIT and the agencies it serves are not clearly defined or communicated.
  • OIT’s current funding model does not ensure sufficient resources for core IT activities common and critical to all State agencies.
  • OIT project managers cannot fully estimate costs on proposed projects or perform complete budget to actual cost analysis on IT projects in progress.
  • OIT needs to continue efforts to further mitigate IT-related risks for the State, move toward industry best practices, and improve the services it provides.

Mike Allen of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) shared the September revenue report, which also doubles as a first quarter report for FY16.

Currently revenues are over budget for the current fiscal year by $10.8M or 1.3%.

Lastly, State Budget Officer, Melissa Gott appeared to answer questions about the recent position vacancy report. The report is here.

AFA will meet again in November on Wednesday the 4th at 10:00 AM. In addition to regular business the committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the Governor’s appointment to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees in the afternoon.