Looking Into the Legislative Crystal Ball

(from Maine Townsman, December 2007)

It is no secret that the three major public policy issues to be taken up by the Maine State Legislature in 2008 are

            • Modifying and correcting the school reorganization law enacted in 2007;
            • The Administration’s proposal that the state take over the 15 county jails; and
            • Balancing the state’s FY 08-09 budget, which is facing a projected shortfall of about $100 million.

This issue of the Maine Townsman is focused on the legislative session from the municipal perspective, and attempts to inform municipal officials about the between-session efforts of various working groups, study commissions, and legislative committees to transform raw ideas that were introduced in 2007 into more-or-less polished legislation for consideration in 2008.

With respect to the big-three public policy issues – school consolidation, jail consolidation, and the state budget – a separate article provides an overview of the school reorganization issues.

MMA has received no information about the Governor’s jail consolidation proposal – either in terms of the proposal’s specific details or the background data being used to justify a state take over –  so any analysis of that proposal is not yet possible.

And balancing the state budget will no doubt be very difficult. Although Maine’s municipal leaders are strong proponents of comprehensive tax reform, they certainly understand that tax reform must be an entirely revenue neutral exercise and they respect Governor Baldacci’s often-stated position that he will not support any broad-based tax increases for the purpose of bridging the imbalance in the state budget.

In contrast, some legislative leaders have told newspaper reporters that municipal revenue sharing and school subsidy funds are “on the table” for state budget balancing purposes. Indeed, there has been a growing trend over the last several years for the Legislature to divert municipal revenue sharing resources to help balance the state budget. Over the state’s budgetary time period of FY 06 through FY 09, $13 million has been diverted out of the revenue sharing fund into the state’s General Fund.

From the municipal perspective, the term “broad-based taxes” includes the property tax, and if the state is going to refrain from increasing broad-based taxes to balance the state budget, it must stop raiding the municipal revenue sharing account.

Starting in early January, MMA will begin to publish the weekly Legislative Bulletin.  We will use the Bulletin, Action Alerts and the MMA website to keep you up-to-date on the whirlwind of activity likely to be taking place over the next four months at the State House in Augusta.  (By G.H.)