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Next for key State House panels: budget, tax reform

Posted May 15, 2009, at 9:53 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Friday was the deadline for committees to wrap up their work on the more than 1,400 bills, resolutions and other pieces of legislative business that have been filed so far this session.

For the most part, the committees succeeded, although a few still have some hefty items on their dockets.

The two-year budget is obviously the biggest standout. Budget negotiators on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee adjourned Friday afternoon after days of intense, mostly behind-the-scenes negotiating failed to resolve several key sticking points.

Among them are how much, if at all, state employees should chip in for health insurance and what to do about a milk price stabilization program that is running in the red but that dairy farmers insist is critical to their survival.

The committee plans to resume work on the two-year, nearly $6 billion budget Monday.

Meanwhile, one of the other big issues of the session — tax reform — is looming around the corner.

Members of the Taxation Committee were waiting for work on the budget to be complete before delving deeper into a proposal to shift some of the state’s focus away from income taxes by expanding sales taxes.

Supporters claim the shift will lower the tax burden for most Mainers while allowing the state to capture more sales tax revenue from out-of-state visitors. But opponents warn such a shift could hurt Maine’s tourism industry.

Sen. Joseph Perry, the Bangor Democrat who co-chairs the tax committee, said they “cleared the deck” of almost all other items this week in preparation for taking up the proposals to revamp Maine’s tax code beginning next week.

“Our focus from here on out will be tax reform,” Perry said Friday evening.

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The Natural Resources Committee, meanwhile, will continue to work next week on several weighty bills.

Two trash bills are still on the agenda: one inspired by the seemingly nonstop controversy around the state’s management of the Juniper Ridge Landfill in West Old Town and the other about licensing for the always contentious Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash-to-energy incinerator in Biddeford.

A third bill, sponsored by House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, would integrate climate change and energy efficiency into state planning policies. Several large business organizations have come out against the bill, which they see as adding more red tape to their operations.

The flurry of committee work during the past two weeks means that House and Senate floor sessions will be getting longer.

Aside from the budget and taxes, lawmakers will grapple with bills focusing on sex offenders, school consolidation, reducing the size of the House, repeal of the federal Real ID requirements, revamping Maine’s energy policy and expansion of slots facilities, to name a few.

kmiller@bangordailynews.net

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