A recurring theme this week was the question of what is an appropriate initiative for budgets and what is a policy choice that is better suited to a standalone bill submitted to the policy committee. Outlining components that will go into determining General Purpose Aid to Local Education (GPA) by school district were also made available.
Appropriations was joined by the State and Local Government committee for public hearings on their portions of the governor’s proposed budget.
Items of note:
- Moving analytical staff, including the State Economist, from the Office of Policy and Management to the Office of the Commissioner
- Increased debt service for the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority (MGFA) to support renovations, particularly on the East (AMHI) campus and $6M to further work on the state-owned Dolby landfill in East Millinocket
- Further MGFA debt authorization to support $100M in construction and maintenance at the University of Maine System (UMS)
- $10M from unappropriated surplus for the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Local and Regional Services
- Creation of the Department of Technology Services (DTS) (from the existing Office of Information Technology (OIT)
- $21M in borrowing for IT infrastructure
- Allow state facilities to accept contributions for upkeep, maintenance and repair
Joined in the afternoon by the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, AFA heard testimony on the following issues among others:
- Changes proposed by the Ethics Commission to the distribution schedule of funds to the Maine Clean Elections (MCEA) program and a request for $1.7M in additional funding, the testimony also includes scenarios for different situations and a history of transfers to and from MCEA. Members of the public voiced strong opposition to the governor’s proposed funding levels for MCEA
- The governor’s proposal to essentially deregulate games of chance for charitable organizations, relying instead on local enforcement
- The governor’s proposal to implement Keno as a game of chance. Presenting the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO) Greg Mineo faced skepticism from the committee regarding the appropriateness of this initiative for a budget
The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development (LCRED) committee spent the entire day with Appropriations.
Testimony was offered on the Workers Compensation Commission, the Department of Labor (DOL), Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA), Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), Professional and Financial Regulation (PFR) and many other smaller agencies.
- Support was expressed for the full appropriate amount of the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) to the Housing Opportunities for Maine (HOME) fund in the MSHA
- The Governor’s plan to eliminate the entire $180K appropriation for the Applied Technology Development Centers (ATDC). This successful program supports:
- Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development (MCED) – MCED runs an intensive 15-week training program, that has assisted 140+ small businesses. Removal of state funds would also affect MCED’s ability to draw down additional federal funds.
- Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center (MAIC) – MAIC sponsors and facilitates innovative research and development projects involving food, pharmaceuticals, and other products from sustainable aquatic systems.
- Target Technology Center at UMaine – Home of the UpStart Incubator, which provides coaching services and support to entrepreneurs in order to build competitive, market-oriented companies.
- An increase from $25 to $100 per week in the amount an individual receiving unemployment compensation can retain of other earnings without jeopardizing their UI benefits
In a brief public hearing a member of the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife committee shared Commissioner Woodcock’s testimony.
Opposition was voiced by committee members and the public to the elimination of Game Warden and science positions, the elimination of printed rule and law books, and the reduction of miles driven by Game Wardens. The Commissioner attempted to explain the reductions as necessary to maintain the same dollar funding as in the last biennium. No compelling reason was offered for this.
Rescheduled due to a storm EDU joined AFA for a hearing on the K-12 proposals offered by the governor. After two and half hours of testimony from the Acting Commissioner, scratching the surface of the more than 60 changes to the school funding formula proposed by the governor, the committees opted to take testimony from the more than 70 members of the public present to oppose the governor’s plans.
According to data from the Maine Department of Education, calculations show that almost 65% of Maine students live in districts that will see a decline in education funding from the state if the governor’s budget proposal is approved.
Concerns were raised about the looming March 30 deadline for school boards to propose budgets. The governor’s plan to eliminate state support for local school administration was panned. The budget as proposed will result in increased costs to towns of 5% and 10%.
Monday morning public hearings continue with the Environment and Natural Resources committee.