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February 18, 2015

Legislative Bills
Maine lawmakers and state agencies have submitted approximately 1,900 bills for consideration during the First Regular Session of the 127th Legislature that is expected to adjourn in mid-June. You can view this list of bills by sponsor here or by subject matter here.

The Legislature’s Office of the Revisor of Statutes is now in the process of drafting the language for each bill. When the language is complete, the public will be able to look over the text online at http://legislature.maine.gov. To date, there are more than 420 bills printed and referred to their respective policy committee.

Agency Bill Titles
While the members of the Legislature had until January 2nd to submit their ideas for bills, the state agencies’ deadline for bills was early December. The list of bill titles for agency requests may be viewed here.

Fiscal Issues
Maine Governor Paul LePage has proposed a major restructuring of Maine’s tax system as part of his FY 2016-17 biennial budget. The plan has been called “bold” and necessary. The proposal decreases the state’s reliance on income tax revenue and increases its reliance on consumption-based sales and use tax revenue. The sales tax increase comes in the form of both increased rates and taxation of new services provided to consumers. The proposal will also likely result in increased property taxes, and also would allow municipalities to tax larger nonprofit entities for the first time. Maine estate taxes would be phased out. Here is a link to the summary fiscal overview.

The following is a brief summary of the proposals contained in Governor LePage’s tax reform initiative and budget proposal.

The full text of the bill can be found here.

  • Phases out and eliminates BETR program as of April 1, 2015 and transitions to BETE
  • Increases sales tax rate to 6.5% and extends the tax to various new services (accounting and legal, et al.)
  • Amends the service provider tax; increases the rate and expands the tax to certain services
  • Eliminates the estate tax
  • Phases in rate reductions for individual and corporate taxes
  • Repeals state municipal revenue share July 30, 2016

Governor Delivers His State of the State Address
On February 3rd at 7:00 p.m., Governor LePage delivered his State of the State Address to a joint convention of the House and Senate. The prepared text of the address can be found here. As expected, the Governor took this opportunity to discuss and promote his budget, particularly the tax reform package found within the Governor’s biennial budget package. In addition to the budget and tax reform components, the Governor also focused on the issues of energy costs and domestic violence, two priority issues of his Administration.

MaineDOT Rolls Out Three-Year Work Plan
Governor Paul R. LePage and Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt have unveiled MaineDOT’s annual three-year work plan for 2015-2016-2017 that describes all of the projects and activities that the Department plans to undertake over the next three years. This includes major construction projects for all transportation modes; smaller construction and maintenance projects; plowing and summer road maintenance; bus, rail, and ferry operations; sidewalks and trails; and more.

The projects and activities listed for 2015 include 523 capital projects with a combined total value of $469 million, including the following work, shown with approximate estimated costs.

  • Replacement or rehabilitation of 47 bridges, at a total estimated value of nearly $95 million.
  • Construction, reconstruction, or rehabilitation of 108 miles of state-jurisdiction roads, at a total estimated value of $122 million.
  • Paving to preserve the investment on 252 miles of high-priority, improved roads, at a total estimated value of about $86 million.
  • Light capital paving (LCP) to keep 600 miles of lower-priority roads serviceable, at a total estimated value of $28 million.
  • 76 highway spot and safety projects, at a total estimated value of $30 million.
  • 94 multimodal capital projects to improve ports, rail, airports, transit facilities, and other modes of transportation, with a total estimated value of $72 million.

To view MaineDOT’s three-year work plan and see what projects are planned in your city/town, please visit www.mainedot.gov.

Beverage Issues
The Veterans and Legal Affairs (VLA) Committee has held their first public hearings on two bills of interest to the beer and wine industry. LD 102, An Act to Strengthen the Craft Beer Industry is sponsored by Sen. Alfond. The bill will amend existing law to allow a person licensed to manufacture malt liquor to host up to nine tenant brewers at a manufacturing facility. Current law allows a person licensed to manufacture malt liquor to host one tenant brewer at that person’s manufacturing facility. This bill amends that law to allow for up to nine tenant brewers per host at a manufacturing facility. The public hearing was held on February 4th. No work session has yet been scheduled for the committee.

The text may be viewed here: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/display_ps.asp?ld=102&PID=1456&snum=127

LD 122, An Act to Standardize Pints of Beer Sold in Maine, is sponsored by Sen. Patrick. The bill requires that if an on-premises retail liquor licensee sells or offers for sale a pint of malt liquor, the container it comes in must have a capacity of at least 16 fluid ounces. The public hearing was held on February 11th and the work session has not yet been scheduled.

The text may be viewed here: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/display_ps.asp?ld=122&PID=1456&snum=127

In addition to VLA, there are several other policy committees that have issues of interest to the industry. These include:

LD 169, An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Groundwater Rights. This bill creates an excise tax of 1¢ per gallon on the extraction of groundwater or surface water from springs or other underground sources in this state by a bottled water operator that extracted more than 1,000,000 gallons in the previous calendar year if the water is packaged for sale in containers of 5 gallons or less.

LD 325, An Act To Strengthen Recycling of Single-use Plastic Shopping Bags. This bill requires a retailer to assess a 5¢ surcharge for a plastic bag designed for one-time use distributed to a customer at the point of retail sale. A retailer retains 2¢ from the surcharge for administrative costs. The revenues from the plastic bag surcharge are credited to the Plastics Recycling Fund administered by the Department of Environmental Protection for the purpose of promoting recycling efforts related to plastics. A retailer may provide recyclable paper bags to bag products at the point of sale. A retailer must provide reusable bags for purchase by a customer.

LD 364, An Act To Allow a Sales Representative To Serve Spirits or Wine at a Tasting Event. This bill repeals the prohibition on a sales representative pouring or distributing distilled spirits or wine at a tasting event.

LD 366, An Act Regarding the Sale and Taxation of Hard Cider. This bill includes within the definition of “hard cider” liquor produced by fermentation of pears and cranberries or combinations of apples, pears and cranberries.

There will be many more bills printed in the coming weeks. Refer to the legislative website listed above to review the bills and monitor the committee process.

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