AUGUSTA, Maine — More than 100 bills passed this session by the Legislature languish in a limbo created by uncertainty about whether they can be funded.
They include a bill that would raise Maine’s minimum wage, a proposal to offer tax credits to primary care physicians practicing in underserved areas and a law to strengthen income and political disclosure requirements for lawmakers and executive branch officials.
They’ve passed both chambers of the Legislature, but it’s far from certain they will become law. They haven’t yet made it to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk because most of them require some measure of funding in order to become law.
If the budget passed last week by the House and Senate becomes law in its current form, the $6.3 billion plan would leave about $1.25 million to divvy up among the more than 100 bills awaiting funding.
Legislative leaders say they are not yet focused on deciding which bills they will aim to fund and which they will let languish on what is called the Special Appropriations Table. The first order of business, they say, is making sure the state has a budget in place by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.
“Without a budget, we don’t have a table,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, House chairwoman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “That’s where I’m still focused — on passing a budget so we have revenue that might be available.”
LePage has pledged to veto the budget passed by the Legislature because it temporarily proposes to raise the state sales, lodging and meals taxes in order to restore some funding for towns and cities through the state’s municipal revenue sharing program. LePage proposed to eliminate revenue sharing entirely in his original budget proposal.
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee will likely take up bills waiting on the Special Appropriations Table once the state budget is resolved. At that point, the committee would recommend bills for funding based on the priorities of legislative leaders from both parties. Those that don’t receive the committee’s positive recommendation would die.
Leaders on both sides of the aisle Tuesday said they hadn’t started seriously considering priority bills for funding. The funding for one high-priority bill, a measure aimed at strengthening job training initiatives to close the state’s skills gap, has been included in the two-year budget proposal now awaiting action by LePage.
As for other priority bills, “We need to start focusing on those,” said House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport.
“I’m open to listening to my members as they come forward with priorities,” said Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, the assistant Democratic House leader.
The bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016, then raise it annually by the same percentage as the consumer price index, passed the Legislature in April. It landed on the Special Appropriations Table because it could affect future state spending by forcing raises for some low-paid state employees. There could also be costs to the state Department of Labor from enforcing the new wage levels.
The bill to strengthen requirements that lawmakers and some executive branch officials report alternative sources of income, business interests and their involvement in political parties and committees landed on the Special Appropriations Table because it would cost the Maine Ethics Commission $50,000 to implement a new electronic filing system.
Other bills that have landed on the Special Appropriations Table include a sales tax exemption for nonprofit performing arts organizations, a $10,000 appropriation for the Maine-Canadian Legislative Advisory Commission and a bill to increase reimbursements from the state’s Medicaid program for ambulance services.