Funding the State’s Vital Records Operation

(from Maine Townsman, April 2010)

The state and local system of financing the administration of vital records is another issue addressed in the supplemental state budget as well as in a separate piece of legislation. Here’s the background.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) self-funded vital records program apparently hit an insurmountable revenue hurdle this year. Without any additional support, the program was projected to face a $340,000 funding shortfall in FY 2010.

In 2009, in a piecemeal attempt to address immediate and future funding shortfalls, the CDC underwent a rulemaking process and increased the fees assessed for the state (rather than municipal) issuance of vital records, such as marriage, birth and death certificates, from $15 per record to $60 per record.

In 2010, the CDC also submitted LD 1592, An Act to Update the Laws Affecting the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. One element of the bill sought to address state funding shortfalls by increasing the fees assessed by municipal clerks for providing vital records (birth, marriage and death certificates, marriage licenses, and burial permits) and essentially requiring the communities to remit the increased fee revenue to the state. That is not the way LD 1592 was ultimately enacted, however. As described in the “Health and Human Services” section of the New Laws article in this edition of the Townsman, the fees for providing vital records issued by the town and city clerks have been increased and the municipalities will not be required to remit some percentage of their vital records fees to the state, at least immediately. Instead, the CDC is authorized by LD 1592 to develop a fee schedule through a “major substantive” rulemaking process to assess fees on municipalities for the vital records related services the state provides municipalities. As “major substantive” rules, the fee schedule will need to be endorsed by the Legislature next year before it can be implemented.

The CDC’s vital records department’s funding shortfalls were also addressed in the supplemental budget. First, in order to address the immediate FY 2010 shortfall, a one-time General Fund appropriation of $340,000 is allocated to the state’s vital records operations. Second, as of April 1, 2010 the state’s vital records fee is restored at the $15-per-record level (down from $60 per record) and a General Fund appropriation of $34,330 in FY 2010 and $102,990 in FY 2010 is provided to offset the decreased fee assessment revenue loss. Finally, in FY 2011 funding for three positions in the CDC’s vital records operations is transferred from the fee-based “other revenue” account and funded with $244,861 of federal revenue. These changes are important because they acknowledge that this “vital” state program needs some level of General Fund support. Hopefully this acknowledgement will be carried forward into the rule making process as the state’s fees for its services to municipalities are developed.