January 28 – February 1, 2013

Bills list for this session

The Revisor’s Office has published the list of legislator’s bill requests.  My education committee is schedule to work about 180 bills, a substantial load.

Supplemental budget

In a work session that was pleasurable to no one, the Education Committee endorsed the across the board supplemental budget reductions made necessary by the Governor’s curtailment order. Notable changes include:

  • $12,579,756 cut from General Purpose Aid to schools
  • $2,535,228 cut from the University of Maine system
  • <$724,451 cut from the Community College system
  • <$143,401 cut from the Finance Authority of Maine for student aid.

On a 10-1 vote, we also voted to allow the General Fund to “raid” this year’s unallocated revenue from the Oxford Casino which currently is dedicated towards future GPA.  As abhorrent as the decision was, it seemed better than the alternative which was to cut additional currently allocated funds from GPA.

We declined to endorse the proposed elimination of eligibility for kindergarten-aged disabled children to participate in the Child Development Services program.

In a split vote, the Committee declined to endorse the re-framing of the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Education Services to limit its application to reorganizations centered on Career and Technical Education facilities.

The Committee most likely also would have declined to endorse the Governor’s proposal to increase from 5% to 10% the surcharges paid to private academies for capital expenses.  But, sensing the lack of support, the Commissioner withdrew that section.

Charter schools, which receive their money through the local schools’ budgets were exempted from curtailment under the Governor’s proposal.  To me, that seemed particularly unfair — as not only are the local school’s funds being curtailed across the board but also, without passing through the matching curtailment for the charters, the state would be forcing the local schools to cut even further into their own funding in order to augment their payment to the charters’ at the full rate.

So, our committee floated an amendment to pass the reductions through to the charters at the same curtailment rate as each sending district’s curtailment.  This amendment was approved by a majority of committee members but the vote, unfortunately, fell exactly on party lines – somewhat to my surprise.

Even more surprising, the Department of Education and the House Republicans each immediately followed up with press releases characterizing the committee’s decision as political.  Fortunately, an article in the Bangor Daily News explains the issue more fairly.

Health and Human Services Committee objects to cuts

In their own report back to the Appropriations Committee on the supplemental budget, the Health and Human Services Committee was split on some of the Governor’s recommendations.  A majority of the HHS committee opposed:

With the Washington County delegation, on Wednesday afternoon, I met with representatives of the Downeast Salmon Federation to hear their proposal for re-opening the Saint Croix River to alewives.  The Federation believes that a strong expanded alewife spawning habitat on the Saint Croix would significantly benefit the groundfish population in the Gulf of Maine.  Some guides in the headwater lakes of the Saint Croix worry that alewives will harm bass sport fishing.

Upcoming week

On Tuesday evening, the Governor will deliver his State of the State speech to us in the legislature.

Thursday afternoon, the Education Committee will hold a stakeholders forum to hear concerns about the Essential Programs and Services school funding model.

Many of you have emailed me with your concerns. I appreciate that. Please continue to let me hear from you.