Special Appropriations and ‘selectpersons’

Gov. Paul LePage accepted the Legislature’s invitation to deliver a State of the State address on Feb. 13. This annual ritual became a little less annual with the current governor. In 2016, he declined to attend the joint legislative session, instead sending a letter in which no love was lost between the executive and administrative branches.

This year, he’ll go, he’ll speak, and who knows? He may conquer. “I … look forward to seeing you at that time,” said he in his letter accepting the pro forma invitation. Prior performances have ranged from the jovial to the blistering. Which governor will show up this year? Tune in and see.

In the meantime, the low hanging fruit of unpopular legislation is beginning to be reported out “ought not to pass” from the standing committees. None of the bills already killed had broken the surface of public debate in a year when it’s all about welfare reform and Medicaid expansion.

A large bolus of bills, 77 in all, sits on the special appropriations table. These are bills that have made it through the system to the point of final enactment but must be funded before they can become law. That is a lot of bills in the short session, many of them carried over from last year. Full funding is unlikely for many of them, but that does not mean they are doomed.

The Appropriations Committee may fund them at a lower level or insert language that allows them to become law despite insufficient funding. They may require a department to implement a law “within existing resources.” They may specify that the law will go on the books, to be implemented “when funding becomes available.”

All of these are ways to get a bill passed, with the funding problem to be solved later. That allows a sponsor to claim success, even though nothing may happen immediately when an unfunded bill passes. Some bills have sat on the books for years this way.

One bill that is sure to get the green crowd out in full force is LD 1806, which puts a surcharge on the registration of hybrid and battery-electric vehicles, $150 for the former and $250 for the latter. This falls into the category of no good deed going unpunished. Drivers who shelled out for a fuel-efficient car could now be dinged for not contributing enough to the highway fund. A public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

LD 1668, sponsored by Rep. Richard Malaby of Hancock, would eliminate the venerable term “selectman” from the municipal lexicon, replacing it with “selectperson.” He’s probably right, it’s time to move forward from the days when only men held those posts in their communities, but Geez Louise. Call a woman who fishes a fisherwoman, and you will get the stink eye, post haste. They call themselves “fishermen.” Lots of women were just fine with being “selectmen.” Malaby is extending the hand of equality to women in local office, so it would behoove us not to bite it. That does not mean we can say goodbye to “selectman” without a pang.

Codyville Plantation will go the way of the dinosaur if LD 1673 passes. Plantations, at least in the current day, are unique to Maine. A Maine plantation is an entity between a town and an unorganized territory. One student of the subject, Richard Walden Hale, describes the gradual process from “township” (surveyed land expected to evolve into a municipality), to plantation (the granting of limited self-government when enough settlers arrive), to town, with full civil rights and state representation.

Nowadays a settlement is more likely to devolve rather than evolve. With the continual increase of responsibilities laid upon local government by the state, sparsely populated plantations or even full-fledged municipalities often decide it is just too much work to maintain their status and opt to hang it up, becoming part of nearby unorganized territories.

Another farewell is in order this week. Moira O’Neill, a resident of Surry and a candidate in 2016 for the state Senate seat currently held by Brian Langley, is moving out of state. She has been appointed the child advocate for the state of New Hampshire, an honor for her but a loss for us.

Though she did not unseat the solidly supported Langley in his bid for a fourth term, she did prove herself to be an intelligent, articulate and hardworking candidate with a great deal to offer in Hancock County. New Hampshire is one of just two states with an official child advocate, and O’Neill’s background is tailor-made for the position. Nonetheless, it is a loss of the kind of talent we sorely need. She leaves Maine reluctantly. Fair winds, Moira, we hope your path brings you back one day.

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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