AUGUSTA, Maine — You may have thought the session was over for the summer, but Maine’s Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, July 9, to make a technical correction to a recently enacted $6.3 billion state budget.
The fix is in the “errors and omissions” bill, LD 1572, which, depending on who you ask, is either a big deal or just a minor detail that needs clarification.
The bill clarifies that a sales tax increase from 5 percent to 5.5 percent will be applied to all categories for which the state currently collects sales tax, including a certain group of taxable health care services.
Tuesday’s vote — which some Democrats say is expected to be a “minor, technical language correction,” the type lawmakers make on nearly every state budget — was unable to take place in June because of flagging numbers of representatives in the House on the evening the vote was supposed to take place.
Absent the evening of June 27 were 21 Republicans and 28 Democrats, about a third of the House. The measure needs two-thirds of the members present to pass as an emergency and go into effect this October, but without the 28 Democrats it was unlikely the bill would have reached the two-thirds margin, because it involves a tax increase that some Republicans fundamentally oppose.
Jodi Quintero, the communications director for House Democrats, said the high absenteeism was part frustration and part fatigue for lawmakers who had endured “a long and tiresome” session. She said the clarifying language would have no direct impact on the budget’s bottom line.
But Grant Pennoyer, the director of the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review, said technically the budget would be short without the fix.
Pennoyer also said that lawmakers technically have until June 30, 2014, to correct the error. Pennoyer also said that due to some of the late negotiations on the budget the correction came after the overall budget was passed into law — after lawmakers overrode a veto of the measure by Gov. Paul LePage.
Pennoyer said in most cases technical corrections to the budget are caught before the budget bill is passed from both the House and the Senate.
By missing the vote in June, it’s possible lawmakers extended their work and could be back again at the end of July to tackle any additional vetoes offered by LePage, including a possible veto of the technical corrections bill.
So far, the House has not scheduled any work beyond June 9, according to Quintero.
Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage, said the governor will decide what to do with the bill once it reaches his desk but has been consistent on his opposition to sales tax increases.
Bennett said the bigger question is why legislative leadership couldn’t keep enough lawmakers in place to take the vote when it was planned.
The correction requires a two-thirds vote of those present under the state’s constitution in order to be enacted as an emergency. A two-thirds vote would also be necessary to override a LePage veto of the bill.
Lawmakers are also expected to deal with a handful of veto override votes on Tuesday.