So, how’d they do? The Legislature has left town, things have quieted down. And after four months of work, surely they accomplished a lot. Surely.
Well, perhaps you can’t afford good health care or health care insurance. You heard that the federal government has a great free or inexpensive health insurance program, but you can’t access it until your governor and Legislature allows you to. They must have done that, right?
Sorry to report that they shut the door on you again this session, despite the exceptional effort made by Sen. Tom Saviello, a Republican from Wilton who I am proud to say is my senator. Tom fashioned a terrific compromise that, in addition to giving you a chance at better health care, would have pumped $300 million in federal dollars into our state’s medical system. As one legislator told me, “Republicans could not get out of the way of their ideology to help the less fortunate.” So sad.
Well, maybe you are struggling to pay high property taxes. You know Maine’s tax system is way out of whack, relying too heavily on property taxes, and needs rebalancing. The governor and legislators have been talking tax reform for years now, so surely they got it done this session.
Ahhh, don’t we wish.
Gov. Paul LePage and many Republicans are focused on repealing the income tax, the only tax based on our ability to pay. Luckily, they haven’t accomplished that. But property tax relief is not on their agenda and they continue to dump on local town governments, even refusing to pay the 55 percent of education expenses we instructed them to do many years ago in a referendum vote.
The Legislature did override the governor’s veto of a couple million dollars of state funding for county jails, which are funded by local property taxes. The governor claimed county jails are wasteful, but the fact is that county jails are much more efficient than the state prison.
OK, we’ve known for a long time that Maine spends more on fossil fuels per capita than any other state. And with the very realistic possibility that we could rid ourselves of that burden with energy sources available right here in our state, including wood, water, wind and the sun, the Legislature has to have moved us in this direction, right? Ahhh, wrong again.
The solar energy bill came close, but fell two votes short of those needed in the House to override the governor’s veto — after five Republicans who voted initially for the bill took a walk and didn’t vote on the override.
I was particularly disappointed in the failure of a bill Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Hudson, sponsored at my request, to reinstate the marketing position and budget at Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to help our struggling outdoor industry. The department opposed the bill, but Mark Duda of Responsive Management, a national firm that has done great work in all 50 states, delivered a 350-page report and recommendations. One of the top recommendations was to create this marketing position at the agency. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee unanimously endorsed the bill, and included a modest budget for the position and program, suggesting that the funding come from the agency’s substantial surplus. But Republicans on the Appropriations Committee killed the bill.
Well, to be fair, legislators did accomplish a few things. Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, cited a bill that amended graduation requirements and created a pathway for Career and Technical Education Students to graduate. It also created multiple pathways for students to demonstrate what they know. “This legislation is complex and took months to work,” Langley said, giving everyone on his education committee credit for a job well done.
And legislators overrode the governor’s vetoes of nine health and human services bills, including one to provide more access to naxalone, another that prevents DHHS from slashing services to thousands of kids with autism and adults with mental illness, and a third that improves ambulance services, especially in rural areas.
They also tightened up rules to make sure our public support of those in need is not abused. That was cited by some legislators as a major achievement, which just demonstrates how divided and dysfunctional the Legislature and governor are. Something like that should have been easy.
When I asked a bunch of legislators to tell me about the session’s most important achievement and biggest disappointment, one said that, in his many years in the Legislature, “I have not seen such intimidation (from leadership — example: the solar bill), lack of support for unanimous committee reports, lack of respect for the process and more interest in unspoken fundraising.”
I guess we can be happy they left town.