AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature began chipping away at its unfinished business on Tuesday in the first day of this year’s special session.
The Legislature reconvened to continue work on a number of bills that were left in limbo when a vote to extend the session in April failed. The impasse at that time was over Medicaid funding and Republicans’ demand that scheduled increases in Maine’s minimum wage, which would go to $12 and hour by 2020, be slowed.
Gov. Paul LePage continued his fight against the minimum wage Tuesday with the introduction of another bill to slow the increases and eliminate future bumps related to increases in the cost of living.
With noticeably less rancor than when they last convened, lawmakers wrapped up before 5 p.m. Tuesday with plans to return Wednesday to continue.
Lawmakers agreed on a tax conformity package but not funding for administrative costs to expand the state’s Medicaid program. A number of other unresolved issues remained untouched.
A bill to provide startup funding for administrative costs related to Medicaid expansion passed through the House, but not by enough to survive a likely veto from LePage. The bill would provide $31.1 million from the general fund and up to $23.5 million from the budget stabilization fund, which according to Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, adds up to what the LePage administration has said it will need for expansion.
LePage has said repeatedly that he will veto any Medicaid expansion bill that uses stabilization fund money. A Maine Superior Court justice ruled last week that the LePage administration must begin the process of Medicaid expansion but the administration appealed that decision Monday to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
“We have a responsibility and an obligation to do everything in our jurisdiction to put a rest to this debate,” said Gattine.
The bill passed 78-58 with most Republicans opposed. That isn’t the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto or to be enacted as an emergency measure.
The House and Senate also followed through with previous spending proposal agreed upon by the Legislature’s budget committee. Both chambers advanced LD 925, which funds a number of social service programs and increases reimbursement rates for nursing homes and home care agencies. The bill passed 126-6 Tuesday afternoon in the House but requires more votes in both chambers.
Republicans and Democrats settled long-standing differences about adapting Maine’s tax code to changes made to the federal system as part of a sweeping overhaul late last year.
The Senate on Tuesday passed an altered and pared-down version of the conformity plan that LePage proposed in March that will cut taxes by $26.8 million through June 2019, according to a state estimate. The bill faces further votes in both chambers.
Both sides hailed the proposal in floor debate in the Senate. The compromise version includes a smaller corporate tax cut than LePage wanted, keeping current rates but increasing the income thresholds to which they apply. Democratic priorities in the package included the expansion of a property tax credit and a new family and medical leave credit.
Working into the evening
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee was scheduled to continue negotiations Tuesday evening on a number of other issues, including hatching a bond proposal for consideration by the full Legislature and later by voters in a referendum.
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Correction: The tax proposal approved by the Maine Senate on Tuesday would not decrease corporate tax rates, but it would increase income thresholds to which the current rates apply.