Dear Friends and Neighbors in Maine House District 35,
Having shared with you last December a recap of last year’s session and an outline of my priorities for this year as your representative, I want to offer here for comparison an accounting of what I see as my successes and disappointments in the 2014 legislative session.
Overall, I believe the Legislature did a remarkably good job of working together civilly and productively given the larger landscape of the partisan divide between the legislative and executive branches. As outlined below, I am proud of many bipartisan accomplishments and disappointed by a few missed opportunities.
Jobs and economic development
I worked on several research and development bills which should significantly benefit our state and local economy as part of a $50 million collection of bond referenda which voters will consider in November.
One $3 million bond leverages $120 million to advance the MDI Bio Lab’s work in educating an entrepreneurial scientific workforce engaged in regenerative tissue repair and development of therapeutic drugs. This is projected to create 41 new jobs immediately and 75 new jobs in the long term.
Another $10 million bond leverages $180 million for Jackson Lab to construct a world-leading facility to research the genetic causes of cancer and aging. This is projected to create 295 new jobs immediately and as many as 2700 new jobs in the long term.
- State budget panel approves $50 million package of jobs, water bonds
- $50 million bond proposals headed to LePage with strong bipartisan support, Bangor Daily News
- Maine Lawmakers OK $50 Million in Bond Proposals, MPBN
- Cancer research investment to head to voters this Fall
I worked on another bond bill to aid in the public purchase of the Bar Harbor Ferry Terminal. Unfortunately, the Governor was unwilling to support more than $50 million in total bonding this year and, with the Legislature already paring down its request for $73 million in closely vetted R&D bonds like those above, simply no money remained for this.
Budget and tax policy
I am especially proud of the Legislature’s success this session on a bipartisan budget which averted another potential $10 million curtailment to Maine schools, restored $2.5 million in college scholarships, supported innovative early college programs, repaired some of the broken promises to municipalities regarding revenue sharing, and reduced the waiting lists for community services for Mainers with intellectual disabilities.
- Burst of pre-dawn votes bridges $30M deficit, ends ‘wait lists’ — but will Lepage agree?
- April 15, 2014 – Maine House approves bipartisan funding bill
- Legislature passes $32 million budget fix; LePage threatens veto
- Maine panel proposes $30 million budget fix, adding services for disabled, Press Herald
- Maine Lawmakers Reach Budget Deal Gov Calls ‘Unacceptable’, MPBN
- Legislators crush LePage’s supplemental budget veto; bill becomes law
- With bipartisan support, Maine House advances $79 million in fixes for rainy day fund, budget shortfall
- Legislators crush LePage’s supplemental budget veto; bill becomes law
- Maine Legislature overrides LePage budget veto, avoids state shutdown
- Maine House Republicans Defy GOP Leaders in Revenue Sharing Vote
- Maine Democrats’ Revenue-Sharing Bill Wins Legislative Approval
- Maine House Gives Final Approval to Bill to Prevent Property Tax Hikes
With Speaker Eves, I also co-sponsored a bill which restored some income-based property tax credits in place of the cuts made last session to the circuit-breaker program.
- Legislature presented with measure to reverse property tax relief program cuts
- Low-income, elderly Mainers will be eligible for twice as much property tax relief next year
- April 23, 2014 – Bill to boost property tax credit signed into law
Additionally, the Legislature resolved to review tax expenditures to ensure that they remain effective in returning their expected public benefits.
- Pine Tree Zones tax breaks costing state more than they deliver
- Maine House overrides LePage veto of tax break study
I worked to sustain a bipartisan bill which would have removed the state’s unfunded actuarial liability for retirement costs from the state’s annual calculation of the cost of education.
This figure was moved into the calculation during the last Legislature largely to inflate the state’s apparent contribution to schools. But, as this number is much more a consequence of how the previous two decades of Legislatures chose to finance state operations than it does the actual cost of employee retirement, I believe that its inclusion is inappropriate and misleading.
However, in the final days of the session, it became clear that moving this initiative would antagonize the Governor and jeopardize progress on other important policies. So, after consultation, the Appropriations Committee allowed the bill to die.
Educational policy and finance
Surely my most gratifying accomplishment this session was finding a compromise that brought together the parties who for two years have been divided on developing the rules surrounding the thorny issue of teacher evaluations.
With a broad bipartisan vote over the Governor’s veto, we enacted rules which assure teachers a meaningful voice in deciding what measures of student growth will contribute to their evaluations while also ensuring that local school boards have the last word over evaluation policy.
Another bill of mine clarified the process around non-resident student transfers between school districts, an authority which had been liberally expanded earlier by this administration
With Senator Katz, I cosponsored a bill to develop a pilot program by which college tuition might be repaid by as a percentage of a student’s future income. This concept was folded into a successful broader committee bill studying college affordability
Also, with broad support from educators, the business community, and the criminal justice system, we enacted a bill to implement universal voluntary prekindergarten.
Last, concluding a review of school funding which began in the previous legislature, we established a commission to make specific recommendations regarding improving state funding directed toward early childhood education, support for economically disadvantaged students, and teacher professional development.
Faced with the imminent approval of several applications for new and unproven virtual charter schools by the state charter school commission, Senator Langley and I worked diligently on a bipartisan compromise bill which would have directly expanded teacher-supervised online learning for all students within public schools while effecting a moratorium on virtual charter schools. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed this bill and the Legislature failed to find the votes to override.
- Expand access to online learning for all Maine students
- LePage vetoes virtual school moratorium on same day Senate approves it
As if in complement to the success of the teacher evaluations bill, my biggest disappointment this session was being unable to bring together sufficient support to fix the acknowledged problem of funding for charter schools.
At present, the state forces local school districts to pay for resident students to attend charter schools over which they have no approval or oversight.
To remedy this, I was negotiated an amendment which would have: 1) saved school programs and relieved taxpayers’ pain within districts which are currently losing substantial local funds to expanding charter enrollments; 2) provided state-level funding for charter schools at a reduced rate of three-percent below that at which public schools are funded. 3) required transparent reporting of the total public spending on charter schools, 4) enacted a moratorium on additional virtual charter schools; and 5) accomplished all this within the current approved state budget.
Unfortunately, although I was able to draw support on this compromise from conservatives who are particularly wearied of the way current funding pits charter schools against public schools, the proposal was terminally blocked in the Senate by my own caucus through the influence of the Maine Education Association.
Ironically, in the chaotic final days of session, the more concessions I could win from conservatives on this compromise seemed only to inflame the suspicions of my liberal allies.
Access to health care
The Legislature enacted An Act To Improve Access to Oral Health Care which alleviates Maine’s regional shortage of dental care by allowing dental hygienists under the supervision of dentists to provide more mid-level dental services.
The Legislature successfully overrode three of the Governor’s vetoes related to health care: An Act To Reduce Tobacco-related Illness and Lower Health Care Costs in MaineCare which removes barriers to smoking cessation programs; An Act To Clarify the Law Governing Public Disclosure of Health Care Prices which simply makes a health care provider’s prices transparent to patients; and an act requiring insurers to provide coverage for testing which establishes the suitability of bone marrow donors.
- House overrides veto of tobacco-related illness prevention bill
- House and Senate override veto of bone marrow testing legislation
Although the Legislature tried four different policy compromises, we were unable to find a way to capitalize on federal incentives to expand MaineCare coverage to 70,000 uninsured Mainers who otherwise lack access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
- Final-hours push for Maine Medicaid expansion appears headed for another LePage veto
- LePage vetoes Medicaid expansion, calls the effort ‘ruinous’ for Maine’s future
- LePage vetoes Maine Medicaid expansion bill
Two other decent bipartisan efforts were stymied by Governor’s vetoes. One bill which sought to expand low-income Medicaid coverage for family planning got crossed up in misunderstanding that it was somehow related to abortion.
- Lawmakers disagree about procedure, sustain LePage veto of family planning bill
- GOP kills bill to increase women’s access health care
Another, a resolve which would have recommended ways to expand opportunities for independent living and employment for the disabled, fell afoul of the Governor’s distaste for commissions and studies.
Climate change and energy policy
With Representative Devin, I co-sponsored a successful bill establishing a commission to study the effects of ocean acidification on Maine’s marine economy and ecosystems.
- Maine passes law to study ocean acidification
- East Coast’s first ocean acidification bill becomes law
With Senator Vitelli, I co-sponsored the Maine Solar Energy Act which sets specific state solar energy goals.
While the House found the votes to override the Governor’s veto of a bipartisan compromise bill which would have reinstated income-based rebates for Maine residents installing solar equipment and heat pumps, the Senate failed to override.
With Senator Jackson, I co-sponsored a $7 million bond question to provide matching funds for competitive capital investment for a lobster processing facility.
The Legislature failed to override the Governor’s veto of three bills which would have required state institutions and schools to purchase at least 15% of their food from Maine food brokers; required that schools report the percentage of Maine food purchased; and which would have supported the development of local food hubs to connect Maine food producers with local institutional markets.
- To support local farmers, Legislature should stick with food hubs
- Food hubs would link small Maine farms to new markets
Environmental protection and land use
I cosponsored two successful environmental protection bills. One establishes a fund to control invasive aquatic milfoil. Another accelerates the recycling and processing of waste paint. The Legislature also broadly approved a $10M clean water bond.
More defensively, I worked on behalf of Acadia National Park in opposition to a Governor’s bill which would have required state approval for private land transfers to the federal government. The bill was aimed at preventing the establishment of a North Woods National Park but it also would have impeded several carefully negotiated deals within the existing boundaries of Acadia National Park. The bill was killed.
The Legislature was unable to override the Governor’s veto of a lakes protection bill which would have restricted the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides within 25 feet of Maine lakes