March 20, 2016
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The last few very busy weeks have taken us into the height of this legislative session. (You can take a look at my public calendar if you’d like to see in detail.) As we wrap up committee work and shift more into bill enactment, I wanted to summarize some of the activity.
Tax conformity and school funding
In likely the most significant negotiation of this session, the legislature enacted $38M in accelerated capital investment tax credits for businesses and $15M of additional state school subsidy for local property taxpayers.
While I have previously expressed concern about efficacy of expanding some of the tax breaks and I had argued to my colleagues that the current law required that the state increase school subsidy by $24M and that at least $20M would be needed to avoid additional tax shifts to local property tax, I think that on balance this was a good compromise given the circumstances.
- Maine property owners on the hook for $20 million gap in school funding
- What’s really behind State House fight over tax conformity
- Part of state budget surplus should go to schools facing funding cuts
- Maine Legislature sends business tax break, school funding bills to LePage
Part of this compromise allows the governor to convene a new ‘blue ribbon’ commission to study the cost of education. Obviously it is always prudent to reexamine this issue. But, having just chaired a similar six-year effort, I confess to some of the same reservations as this editorial:
One of my major efforts this session has been to move legislation from my own funding commission’s report: LD 1394: An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Strengthen the Adequacy and Equity of Certain Cost Components of the School Funding Formula. With unanimous support from the Education Committee, this bill:
- Establishes grants and criteria for summer schools, extended-day learning, and collaborative time for professional development
- Directs review of federal regulations related to Title 1 funding and educational equity for economically-disadvantaged students.
- Establishes grants to allow supplemental state funding on the basis of economic disadvantage beyond the 15% adjustment now allocated in the funding formula..
- Directs the initiation of preschool development grants.
Proficiency learning credentials
Since last fall, I have been meeting with educators across the state working on a way to improve proficiency-based learning credentials which would reflect student and school achievement in a way that improves on current diploma requirements.
The resulting vehicle for this policy is LD 1627: An Act To Implement Certain Recommendations of the Maine Proficiency Education Council.
I explain more about this policy in this OpEd, Flexibility, accountability: A better way to chart Maine students’ learning and in this hearing testimony.
While the discussion around the state’s diploma requirements brought the widest attention, the most important results are that this bill:
- Ensures school capacity and accountability for student learning in all content areas, not just the conventional core requirements.
- Assures accountability through more meaningful certification and credentials for student learning in all content areas.
- Allows more freedom and flexibility for multiple academic and career pathways
On Wednesday, the Education Committee unanimously voted that this bill ought to pass as amended.
School improvement and accountability
In complement to the proficiency credentials bill, I have also been working on LD 1253: An Act To Improve the Evaluation of Public Schools. This bill:
- Creates system to evaluate and rate the performance of schools in this State to replace Governor’s letter grade school report cards;
- Aligns with federal requirements to inform the state accountability system to ensure equity in educational opportunity.
- Uses measures of student proficiency in all content areas of Maine’s learning results.
- Uses broad time frames for high school graduation rates.
- Uses measures of postsecondary readiness, persistence, and completion.
- Establishes a district’s eligibility and priority for targeted state funding for school improvement and support.
On Thursday, the House also considered three citizen initiated bills: LD 1660, An Act To Establish the Fund To Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education; LD 1661, An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage; and LD 1662, An Act To Require Background Checks for Gun Sales.
These bills come before the legislature as a result of statewide petitions. In response the legislature can vote either to enact the bills exactly as proposed or to send them to the voters at referendum. The House voted to send all three to referendum.
Of these three, the minimum wage initiative generated the most interest. Resulting from the legislature’s inaction on several bills related to minimum wage last year, this initiative seeks to phase in annual increases in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $12.00 in 2020. It also seeks to phase in a minimum wage for tipped workers from $5.00 to $12.00.
For me, along with many local employers, the tip credit policy is problematic and I have assured the respective retail associations and chambers of commerce that, should this referendum pass in November, I am committed to repairing that credit.
Some business advocates lobbied the legislature for an alternate ballot measure which would have included the tipped credit. But a significant number of these also opposed any overall increase in the minimum wage. I voted to send the initiated bill to the voters.
On January 24th at MDI’s Climate to Thrive event in Northeast Harbor, I gave a presentation on the negotiated plan to greatly expand solar electric generation in Maine stemming from LD 1263, a bill I cosponsored last session. From this, I am pleased to report that a committee bill, LD 1649 An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development, is now being worked.
- Ratepayers save big, jobs triple under dramatic solar plan for Maine, advocates say
- LePage Administration Opposing Solar Power Compromise
- Solar power compromise fairly shares costs, benefits
- Republican initiative casts shadow over solar power bill
New Mainers and the economy
On Tuesday, the Governor introduced a bill which seeks to condition state education funding and municipal revenue sharing on local compliance with federal immigration authorities. Because there is no evidence that Maine municipalities are not cooperating with federal authorities, this bill seems solely an effort to inflame already intemperate political emotions about refugees and asylum seekers. I voted to table this bill unassigned.
- House Democrats put LePage’s immigration bill on ice, Press Herald, 3/15/2016
- LePage bill a baseless attack on immigrants, Press Herald, 3/18/2016
Please let me continue to hear your concerns about state policy. I appreciate your trust and confidence in me as your representative.