Maine communities are preparing for their annual town meetings, in which important decisions will be made about local tax rates. But that process could be difficult if the Maine Legislature fails to act on a $1 billion-plus school funding bill that lets school districts know what their share of local education costs will be.
Last week’s lengthy debate over Medicaid expansion, the state tax code and other issues triggered some procedural delays in the Maine House that prevented lawmakers from taking action on several other important bills — including school funding. Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon says because House Republicans failed to endorse an extension of the legislative session, time is running out.
“Right now we’re in a situation where we’re still in session but we only have one legislative day left,” she says.
Parties in both chambers are in discussions trying to determine what day next month would be appropriate to convene for a veto session to address bills rejected by the governor and to take up those bills that were not dealt with last week. Gideon says the danger in not preparing to extend the session is that any of those measures could be subject to a pocket veto by Gov. Paul LePage.
“That means that he vetoes them without the ability for the Legislature to come back into session and to address those vetoes,” she says. “In other words, a certain death for bills at the governor’s discretion, and that’s not a position that we necessarily want to be in.”
Although Senate Republicans and Democrats were prepared to move on the bills last week, minority Republicans in the House have remained determined to influence the fate of several pieces of key legislation. House GOP Leader Ken Fredette says that rather than square off against his party and the governor, Democrats should come back to Augusta willing to work within the one-day time frame.
“I think what we really want to see is people all coming to the table with the recognition that we need to work together to get this done,” he says. “What that means is House Republicans are going to have an equal seat at the table, and this stuff is all going to get done and worked out, but it’s not going to be something that’s going to be dictated, and I think it’s something that’s has to also involve a conversation with the governor. That’s how, I think, we find a path forward.”
Senate Republicans such as Sen. Joyce Maker of Calais are hopeful that the school funding bill can be dealt with when lawmakers return for Veto Day, as long as everyone arrives to work with the right attitude.
“I believe that if we ever go back and just decide the bills, we’ll put our big pants on and do our jobs,” she says.
Lawmakers can expect to hear more on this issue from constituents. The Maine School Management Association has sent out letters to school superintendents asking them to contact their elected representatives and urge them to act on school funding.