Huffing and puffing for Maine

Despite the sun going down 38 minutes later on Feb. 1 than it did on Jan. 1, Augusta has not seen the light. The wrangling goes on apace.

Governor Paul LePage has a $38 million plan for tax “conformity” – lining up Maine’s tax code with federal taxes – but if he has a way to cover the cost of lost tax revenue, he was not sharing.

A spokesperson said that legislators did too have the plan; legislators maintained that it was not up to them to release it. They accused the governor of “withholding this information from the public.” The gubernatorial spokesperson speculated about whether Democrats would “continue to make a mockery of themselves.” Appropriations Committee member Rep. Gay Grant said she did not want to make policy “based on rumors coming from the second floor.”

Details eked out. Two Democrats, sick of the nonsense, spilled some of the beans. Third and fourth-hand reports from various sources added some more information – or was it misinformation? Straight from the horse’s mouth, we have nothing certain.

And speaking of taxes, efforts on the part of Republicans to gather signatures for a citizen initiative on welfare and tax reform fell short. The party claimed they had “tens of thousands” of signatures but were worried that the verification process could leave them short.

The question itself was controversial from the time it was submitted, because it combined a prodigious number of issues within the two areas (welfare reform, tax reform). For tax reform, the initiative would reduce the state income tax to the vanishing point over a number of years.

For welfare reform, the proposal would include changes to types of assistance currently administered. These would include work search requirements, a shorter benefit period and forbidding benefits for convicted drug felons and federally ineligible noncitizens.

There are elements in the welfare reform proposal that likely would interest many voters, such as one that would prohibit using funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to pay for alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, gambling, bail or lottery tickets. But mixing that in with so many other ingredients, including tax reform, would complicate the picture.

Do you vote in favor of it all because you like some of it? Or do you vote against it all because you can’t accept certain parts? It’s a dilemma.

Republican sponsors hoped that a very simple question would be put to voters: “Do you want to reform welfare and reduce taxes?” Well, come on, fellas. Who doesn’t? How about a little more detail?

The signature gathering will continue, but with an eye to a 2017 vote rather than this year. Democrats, of course, were quick to tag the missed signature deadline as a statement by the electorate that the initiative is doomed. It is not alone. Any bill that cannot muster a two-thirds majority could be caught in the political crossfire.

A Senate Democrat, David Dutremble, resigned his seat last week. He was courageously candid about the reason: alcohol abuse. We wish him well in his recovery. The governor will call for an election; the seat will be hotly contested. It is a chance for Republicans to add another seat to their majority, so they will surely give it their best shot.

On the Democratic side, former three-term Biddeford mayor and four-term state Representative Joanne Twomey had already declared for the seat, expecting an election next fall. With the race moved up, she will have an advantage in her considerable local name recognition. That could also be a disadvantage.

Twomey marches to her own drummer. She is a fierce champion of the disadvantaged, and she is simply unquenchable when she has a bone in her teeth. She suffered a deep personal loss during her time in the House and marched on with her legislative duties regardless.

She is impervious to intimidation, up to and including anything that might come from the chief executive’s office. In fact, she had a memorable confrontation with the governor at a Saco “town meeting” he held last spring. Jumping to her feet, she harangued the governor at length. He stood his ground. As his spokesperson, and then his security detail, attempted to get Twomey to stand down, she slid a jar of Vaseline along the stage in his direction in reference to an uncouth comment the governor made some time ago. She was herded out of the hall. The crowd went wild.

There is plenty on the political horizon to get us through the rest of winter and then some. The trickle of candidates filing to run for the legislature will swell to a rushing river. The D’s will huff and the R’s will puff. We will sit by the woodstove and keep an eye on it all. Sort of.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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