State budget rules may shift power

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The Legislature’s Rules Committee will consider some significant changes that could up the ante in the already started fighting over the state budget, which was unveiled on Friday.

If approved, the changes would require a two-thirds vote of those present in both the House and the Senate for state government to exceed spending limits established two years ago as part of L.D. 1. Currently, a simple majority vote can override the limits.

The new rules would also require a two-thirds vote on any law that obligates future revenue, such as adding new retiree benefits to state health or pension plans.

The joint rules, which must be adopted by the House and Senate by Jan. 20, set the general rules that govern how the Legislature goes about its business.

The supermajority requirements are strongly supported by Republicans in both chambers. Democrats, who are in the majority but don’t control two-thirds of the seats in either the House or Senate, are more reluctant to give the minority party the ability to more easily block legislation.

The changes, which would fundamentally alter the power structures in the Legislature for the next two years, are also supported by the Maine Municipal Association, which is urging its members to back to supermajority provisions.

The Legislature approves joint rules every two years. Once adopted, it takes a two-thirds vote to change or override them.

Traditional attire

On the occasion of his swearing in, new Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings of Portland followed tradition and wore a tuxedo.

Again on the night of Gov. John Baldacci’s inauguration, the speaker donned the formal attire. Bowing to pressure from traditionalists among former speakers – who say he should wear the tux everyday the House is in session – Cummings is planning to wear the gray tails once a week, on the first day the chamber is called to order.

Down by the river

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The legislative session is still young but the push for new state borrowing in the form of bonds is already starting.

On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers, including Lewiston state Sen. Peggy Rotundo and former GOP gubernatorial candidate and Skowhegan state Sen. Peter Mills, are scheduled to hold a press conference along with a number of environmental organizations to launch an appeal for a $25 million bond.

Called the Riverfront Community Development Bond, the goal is to increase investments in river-based economic revitalization projects.

“With more than 30,000 miles of rivers in the state, and more than half of Maine’s population living in riverfront communities, the potential of a bond are enormous,” a press release announcing the effort reads.

The event is likely to be the first of many, as groups begin their political push for new bonds. The relatively modest size of this particular bond could well be overshadowed by larger requests for transportation, land conservation and research and development.

The news conference will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the State House Welcome Center.

Staff changes

Chris Cinquemani has joined the staff of Senate Republicans as the communications director.

During the campaign, Cinquemani worked in the press shop of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which appeared on the ballot as Question 1 in November.

Travis Kennedy will be serving in a similar position in the House Majority Office. Kennedy has been a legislative aide in the office previously.

Kennedy replaces Kaylene Waindle, who moved up with Speaker Glenn Cummings as special assistant for policy and communications. Tim Feeley is Cummings’ new communications director.

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