Democratic lawmakers are proposing legislation for the second session that would use some of the revenue from the state’s liquor contract to invest in Maine’s future and assist some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
Four bills are seeking to use a portion of the liquor contract revenues for transportation, public education, heating assistance and to reduce the waiting lists for non-medical services that help Mainers with disabilities live independently. Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party, meanwhile, are proposing to use the funds to lower and eventually eliminate the state income tax.
“Do Mainers want to use these funds to provide a tax break to the wealthiest Mainers that will mean higher property and sales for the rest of us? How can we justify that when there so many other pressing needs, like the ones addressed by each of these bills?” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “I agree with the governor that heating assistance for needy families is a top priority. Here’s a way to provide that without harming public lands as his unsustainable and possibly unconstitutional timber harvesting plan would do.”
The bills are:
- LR2359, An Act To Provide Heating Assistance for Maine Seniors and Families (House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe)
- LR 2488, An Act To Revitalize Infrastructure Investment To Create Jobs (sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon)
- LR 2450, An Act To Eliminate the Waiting List for Community-based Services Provided under MaineCare for Individuals with a Brain Injury, an Intellectual Disability or Autism (Rep. Drew Gattine)
- LR 2553, An Act To Transfer Excess Revenue from the State’s Liquor Contract in Fiscal Year 2016-17 to General Purpose Aid to Local Schools (Rep. John Martin)
On each of these bills, the Legislative Council voted 5-5 last month to allow it in for the second session that begins in January. For sessions in even-numbered years, bills need a majority vote to advance to the full Legislature.
The sponsors of these four bills are appealing the decisions. The Legislative Council will consider appeals on Nov. 19.
“There‘s broad bipartisan consensus that Maine’s economy cannot realize its full potential without a robust transportation system,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “The liquor contract provides a unique opportunity to improve our roads and bridges, help businesses move their goods more effectively and boost the construction sector. That is a much better investment than tax cuts for the wealthy.”
Gideon is appealing as a new report underscores Maine’s pressing transportation needs. Fifteen percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 18 percent are functionally obsolete, according to thereport by TRIP. Earlier this year, the Maine Department found that current funding levels are at only half the level needed to maintain the safety and integrity of state bridges.
Maine’s roads also are in dire need of attention. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave a “D” grade to the state’s roads, 83 percent of which are in fair to unacceptable condition.
Liquor contract revenues could also make a big difference in the lives of Mainers with intellectual disabilities by providing services that help them live independently in their communities.
“We should all be able to agree that we need to protect Maine’s most vulnerable citizens. We have a wonderful opportunity to help Mainers with disabilities live more independently – without sacrificing seniors’ ability to pay for their medicines as the governor tried to do,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s the priority? A tax giveaway for the state’s highest earners that will blow a hole in future budgets? Or key services for our neighbors with intellectual disabilities, with the feds tripling our investment”
Martin’s bill would into put liquor contract revenue into the General Purpose Aid, the state’s baseline share of funding for K-12 public education.
“The governor and the GOP have hatched a scheme to provide a windfall to the wealthy. The budget hole they would create would be so big that it would swallow up all state funding for local schools, higher education and more,” said Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who is on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and is a board member of School Administrative District 27. “Instead of shifting the tax burden to everyday Mainers and their communities, let’s put money in classrooms so it can benefit our kids and our state’s economy.”
The new state liquor contracts are yielding higher profits that expected. The first year resulted in $46 million profit, which puts the state on track to exceed the $450 million in profits originally expected over the 10-year life of the contracts. Approximately $9.7 million in revenue from the contracts’ first year is not earmarked for hospital debt bond repayment or other items.