State House outlook



To the Editor:

The next state legislature will begin work officially on Jan. 4, so I wanted to offer a preliminary report and share my legislative agenda for the upcoming session.

Last week, Speaker Gideon appointed me to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which has oversight of the state budget, general fiscal policy and bonding.

I will miss my colleagues on the Education Committee and intend to keep my hand in on a number of ongoing education initiatives. But I am truly excited about serving with some skilled legislators on Appropriations and making the most of the challenging opportunities immediately ahead for the state related to school funding.

I have had the privilege of advising Appropriations on education funding over the past four years and regularly stuck with the committee through all hours during end-of-session budget negotiations. So in some ways, this will be familiar territory.

Certainly, given that Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed every state budget bill since he was elected, we can expect that the governor’s next biennial budget proposal, due in the next few weeks, will stir controversy and difficult negotiations.

Immediately this week, Appropriations’ work will begin under some threat of controversy with the governor in reconciling the location of the necessary new mental health facility to treat violent noncriminal patients after the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center lost its federal certification in 2013.

I expect that all parties will want to complete those negotiations about public oversight as directly as possible in the first weeks of session.

School funding

My policy area of school funding is likely to be central in Appropriations session as the legislature holds hearings on the governor’s budget proposal and also implements November’s Question 2 citizen initiative, which adds an income tax surcharge to aid in the state’s flagging 12-year effort to provide 55 percent of the established foundational costs of K-12 education.

School funding also has been the subject of a parallel Blue Ribbon Commission effort initiated by the governor and enacted by the legislature last session.

While I was blocked from attending the initial meeting by the governor’s staff, I have been wholly welcomed to subsequent meetings and effectively been given a seat at the commission’s table. Despite the rocky start, I am hopeful that the process may prove productive.

I believe that the state may have a real opportunity this session to make some comprehensive improvements to Maine’s school funding model.

So, folding in what I now take to be common interests around support for early education, economically disadvantaged students and professional development for teachers, I have drafted a bill which comprehensively amends the statutes on funding and targets additional funding toward economically disadvantaged students. This bill also greatly increases transparency in state budgeting and educational spending.

Lobster bill

In response to concerns raised by our local lobster zone management council, I am submitting a bill which seeks parity of access for fishermen locally in Zone B and fishermen to the west in Zone C.

Local option tax

In response to regularly expressed local interest in having a municipal ability to adopt a seasonal sales tax on tourist services in support of municipal infrastructure, I am submitting An Act to Allow a Local Option Tax on Meals and Lodging.

I was disappointed last session when the negotiated utility-supported compromise on a rate structure which would support increased distributed solar-electric generation narrowly failed to overcome the governor’s veto.

While the next effort is still apparently stalled in the Public Utilities Commission, I do expect a number of solar bills to come forward this session. To complement that effort and in response to interest from MDI’s A Climate to Thrive initiative on energy independence, I will introduce An Act to Allow Municipalities to Adopt Property Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Installations, which seeks to allow municipalities to exempt renewable energy installations from additional property tax assessments.

Ferry terminal

In support of local and regional efforts to manage transportation and potentially to acquire and locally manage the ferry terminal property, I am submitting a bill to establish a regional transportation, conservation and economic redevelopment authority. I hope to support this with a parallel effort through MDOT to facilitate comprehensive regional transportation planning in partnership with Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor and other regional stakeholders.

Firearm checks

Following on November’s unsuccessful referendum on background checks for gun sales and transfers, I checked with some Republican colleagues about prospective legislation limiting the background check requirement specifically to firearm sales and simply establishing a strict civil liability for the transfer of firearms to a felon or domestic abuser, similar to the bill to this effect that I co-sponsored last session.

I was initially hopeful that this compromise could appropriately respond to the nominal concerns of those who opposed the referendum question on the grounds that it was inappropriately broad to regulate transfers as if they were sales.

But my Republican colleagues seem uniformly to have concluded that opposition to absolutely any kind of firearm regulation is now so widespread and so well-organized that any effort toward finding a policy middle ground will fail quickly.

Further, moderate members of my own caucus, understandably, really dislike the prospect of being politically targeted in the next election by firearms absolutists. So, with some regret, in such an unfavorable climate, I will not be bringing this bill forward.

Solutions

In support of the arduous work of the Local Solutions housing project for local young adults with disabilities, I will be cosponsoring a bill with Rep. Malaby and Sen. Langley that seeks to gain this group some pilot funding.

It is a privilege to serve as your state representative. Please write to me with any concerns. My email address is Brian.Hubbell@legislature.maine.gov.

With best wishes to you and your families for a prosperous and healthy new year,

Representative Brian Hubbell

Maine House District 135

Bar Harbor, Lamoine, Mount Desert

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