AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to trim the size of the Maine House of Representatives from 151 seats to 131 — a moneysaving measure that gained momentum as lawmakers prepared to slash state programs — awaits further action in the House today before it gets its first go-around in the Senate.
Rep. Patrick Flood’s bill calls for a constitutional amendment to make the change, meaning voters would get the final word in November. Flood, R-Winthrop, wants to amend the bill to make it clear that the change would take effect with the 2014 elections.
Although the State and Local Government Committee voted 9-3 to recommend the bill’s rejection, the full House voted 122-23 in favor of the bill last week. The strong endorsement came after representatives adopted an amendment that lessened the impact of the original bill, which sought to reduce the House membership from 151 to 115.
The reworked bill also has no impact on the Senate, which now has 35 members and is permitted by the Constitution to have as few as 31.
While the bill would save $1.6 million in a two-year budget cycle, it would also increase constituent populations in each district from about 8,400 to about 10,000.
Flood is a member of the Appropriations Committee, which was close to approving a state budget that makes deep cuts in state programs because of precipitous declines in state revenues. He said the proposal to reduce the House membership sends a signal to the public that the Legislature is willing to also absorb cuts.
“We need to show that we’re part of that,” Flood said.
A Republican senator, David Trahan of Waldoboro, agreed. “It will send a very clear message that we’re serious about reducing spending up here,” he said.
On its way to the House, Flood’s bill picked up the support of at least one committee member who had previously voted against it, while drawing bipartisan support. Flood said discussions he has had with senators suggest that the other chamber is at least willing to consider the idea, but it was unclear how the Senate would vote.
“You never know around here,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who voted for the bill.
A constitutional amendment needs the approval of two-thirds of the House and Senate in the final vote in order to be put on the ballot.