123rd Legislature By The Numbers

Session Overview

(from Maine Townsman, May 2008)
By
Geoff Herman, Director of State & Federal Relations, MMA

As is the case during any "short" legislative session, Maine's lawmakers considered a couple of hundred bills during 2008 that affected municipal government in some way. Out of all of that legislation, however, there were three public policy issues that dominated the attention of municipal officials this year:

• Fixing the 2007 school consolidation law so that the school reorganization process might have a chance to work;

• Enacting a "jail consolidation" law in 2008 in a deliberate and thoughtful way so that it can begin working right out of the gate and will not (like the school reorganization law) have to be substantially corrected in 2009; and

• Monitoring the impacts of a supplemental state budget that needed to bridge a $200 million gap between anticipated revenues and expenditures, and making sure that the bridge was not going to be constructed out of the property tax.

Measuring the last four months of lawmaking by that yardstick, the 2008 legislative session might be considered - on balance -- a quiet success.

On the downside of the ledger sheet, the major property tax issue coming out of the legislative session will be focused on a $34 million reduction in what was scheduled to be distributed as public school subsidy for FY 09. That story will have two headlines as it plays out.

First, one out of every two school systems in Maine will receive less state aid for education next year than was received this year, and several of those reductions are very significant. Some school programs will be cut, some school employees will lose their jobs, and property taxes in many areas of the state will be increased to cover some of the reduced state subsidy.

The second headline is that the state will not be providing 55% of the cost of K-12 education, even as measured by the state's "Essential Programs and Services" school funding model, and even though that level of financial support was what the voters of Maine directed the Legislature to accomplish in 2004 and what the Legislature agreed to accomplish by FY 09 when it enacted "LD 1" in 2005.

On the other side of the ledger sheet, and with respect to issues affecting local government other than school subsidy, the legislative session was largely characterized by fixing mistakes, making things work correctly, digging into some programs to tighten them up, and otherwise holding the line. The school consolidation "fix-up" bill was finally enacted. The county-state corrections unification bill was enacted. It is true that the supplemental state budget was enacted so as to flat-fund the state's public school appropriation, but in this economic climate, there is a lot of flat-funding going around and the impact of the supplemental budget on 2008-2009 property taxes could have been worse.

That same utilitarian, hold-the-line approach was also taken by the Legislature in response to the legislative issues that MMA's Legislative Policy Committee caused to be submitted to the 123rd Legislature 17 months ago. Althought there were no walk-off home runs to finally settle the Tree Growth, municipal revenue sharing or tax exemption issues that municipal officials brought to the legislative table, incremental progress was made on all three fronts, as well as some positive administrative corrections with respect to revenue sharing projections, the "LD 1" calculation system, and the predictability of Tree Growth reimbursements.

This wrap-up issue of the 2008 legislative session begins with a detailed description of the two consolidation bills, one affecting the schools and one affecting the jails.

Those two articles are followed by the "New Laws" section, which is a summary of all the legislation enacted in 2008 that affects municipal government.

The municipal impacts of the supplemental state budget are described under LD 2289 in the Appropriations and Financial Affairs section of that article.

The final result of the bills advanced by MMA's Legislative Policy Committee are all found in the Taxation section of the New Laws article, with the Tree Growth bills described under LD 543 and LD 2274, the revenue sharing bill described under LD 2276, and the bill regarding the "service charge" element of Maine's exempt property law described under LD 1413.

Following the New Laws article is a report on the very disappointing "pocket veto" by Governor Baldacci that killed a bill strongly supported by the Legislature designed to deliver modest but meaningful governmental savings at both the state and local level through a reasonable modernization of the statutory public notice requirements.

To finish off this wrap-up description of the work of the 123rd Legislature, there is an article describing the various working groups and study commissions that the Legislature put into motion during the remainder of 2008 to address matters that pertain to local government. It is a phenomenon described by some as "eternal return". All those working groups and study commissions are going to be reporting their recommendations to a brand new Legislature that will be elected next November 4th. 

 

Sidebar

123rd Legislature By The Numbers
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2,324
Total Bills Filed and Printed

(122nd Legislature Total Bills: 2,120)
(121st Legislature Total Bills: 1,965)

704
Total New Acts
469 in First Session
235 in Second Session

227
Total Resolves
143 in First Session
84 in Second Session

45
Total Private and Special Laws
31 in First Session
14 in Second Session

41.9%
Ratio of Bills to Passed Legislation
(976 to 2,324)

(122nd Ratio: 45.8%)
(121st Ratio: 46.4%)

110
Total Legislative Days

15
House Representatives Termed-Out

6
Senators Termed-Out

8
 Successful Gubernatorial Vetoes