Maine lawmakers have given initial approval to a bill that would restore $40 million in revenue sharing to the state’s cities and towns by draining about 1/3 of the state’s rainy day fund. But today’s vote did cause sparks to fly.
Democrats say further cuts to revenue sharing will cause cities and towns to slash services and hike property taxes.
“Their surplus funds are depleting very quickly and they know that the raising of property taxes are the only place to go from here. They are asking for our assistance and I, for one, will be voting in favor of providing them with that assistance,” said Representative Stanley Short, a Pittsfield Democrat urging his colleagues to support the bill.
But some lawmakers are angry the bill is already on the floor of the House for a vote. Republicans were outraged this week when they accused Democrats of convening in secret to advance the bill after telling Republicans on the Appropriations Committee the vote would be held the following day. While one Republican on that committee called it a “misunderstanding”, Representative Kathy Chase, a Wells Republican, said GOP members of the Appropriations were lied to.
House Republican leader Ken Fredette unloaded on Democrats in a spirited floor speech, saying the priority should be the current budget holes at the Department of Health and Human Services and not on ramming the revenue sharing bill through.
“The importance of the 2014 expenses, when the state starts running out of money in April, that should be what the priority should be. And quite frankly, I am discouraged and frustrated at the process that brings this bill before us today, a process that, quite frankly, resulted in a vote when our members were not even present. And that’s fundamentally wrong. It’s fundamentally wrong in a democracy,” Fredette said.
After a long floor debate, the measure passed overwhelmingly 114-21. It still faces further votes in the Senate and is likely to be vetoed by Governor LePage. Members of the LePage administration have already come out in opposition of the measure, saying they’re worried that raiding the rainy day find will hurt the state’s bond rating.