Grading the Legislature

Posted June 13, 2011, at 7:06 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 03, 2011, at 11:14 a.m.

The first session of the 125th Legislature is slated to end this week. How did they do?

After November’s election swept a Republican into the Blaine House and Republican majorities into the Maine House and Senate, big changes were promised and expected. Regulatory reform was a big priority, as were tax reductions, tighter welfare rules and lowering health care costs.

Changes were made in all of these — and other — areas. In many instances, the changes were smaller than expected. The governor, for example, presented a long list of regulatory reforms he wanted, including dropping a ban on the chemical BPA and rezoning a third of the state’s Unorganized Territory for development. In the end, the BPA ban in children’s products was strongly supported by lawmakers and the Land Use Regulation Commission — which oversees the Unorganized Territory — will be studied.

Gov. LePage also promised big welfare changes that involved kicking what he viewed as cheaters off the system. The Legislature instead revamped language already in state law that limited the duration of public benefits.

A more than $200 million package of tax cuts and changes was whittled down to $150 million. The number of people who will pay no income taxes was greatly expanded and, at the other end, the state estate tax exemption was doubled to $2 million. Many of the reductions won’t go into effect until 2014, which is also when the bill for them will come due.

Likewise, many of the health insurance reforms enacted by the 125th Legislature, such as the much-touted buying insurance across state lines (which is limited to only a few New England states) won’t go into effect for several years. A $4 monthly charge on all health insurance policies was approved to help cover the cost of insurance for the most costly customers. Insurers also were given more leeway to charge more of the elderly and chronically ill and less to young, healthy people.

The state’s unfunded pension liability will be reduced by limiting cost-of-living increases for employees and retirees.

Funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting will be slightly reduced. Further restrictions on abortions and additional protection for fetuses were turned back. Voters will have to register before Election Day to cast a ballot. And whoopie pies are now the official state treat, while blueberry pie is the state dessert.

The $6.1 billion budget for the next two years and the bills passed by lawmakers contain the broad outlines of many of the Republicans’ top priorities. But the details are much different than what was proposed this winter.

Were Republicans too quick to compromise on issues like regulatory reform and tax cuts? Or did Democrats succeed in moderating proposals that were too extreme?

Join the debate on the Opinion page at bangordailynews.com from 10 a.m. noon Tuesday. Come early, stay let, but be sure to join the debate.

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