Live updates: Maine legislators arrive in Augusta, face key issues

AUGUSTA — Lawmakers gathering Wednesday for the first session of the 128th Legislature will face tough decisions on everything from the budget to the regulation of marijuana sales.

But they’ll also weigh in on less-weighty matters.

Near the top of the Senate’s agenda, for example, is an expression of legislative sentiment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to congratulate Mildred Marston of Fort Kent on her 100th birthday last week.

Few expect to see much progress on one issue that has carried over year after year since the arrival of Gov. Paul LePage in Augusta following the 2010 election: the sour relations between the state’s top executive and the 186-member Legislature.

The first big move will come when LePage submits his proposed two-year spending plan this week that he has said repeatedly is the hardest budget he’s had to deal with. He told radio interviewers he’s aiming to hold spending in check and to reduce taxes.

“I’ve never had a budget that I sent on to the Legislature come back” with more costs loaded on, LePage told WVOM on Tuesday. He expects more of the same.

“I’m not going to fight,” LePage said. “They’re just going to do what they do.”

Anticipating the battles ahead, the sometimes combative and occasionally sharp-tongued LePage said his new year’s resolution is, “I’m not going to call them names. I’m just going to call them legislators.”

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said passing a responsible budget is what’s “first and foremost” in her mind.

But she said the Legislature has other priorities, including trying to do more to bring jobs and economic development to rural Maine and to combat poverty across the state.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, is looking for lawmakers to tackle issues ranging from education to energy while House Whip Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, hopes to bring some focus to veterans’ issues and the necessity of improving Maine’s poor roads and infrastructure.

Maine voters left a pile of work for lawmakers, as they deal with four ballot questions that may create headaches for officials trying to implement them.

The legalization of marijuana, for instance, has legislators wondering about everything from how to regulate the sale of the drug to whether it’s acceptable to smoke marijuana in a hotel room designated for smokers. There is also a consensus that the law needs to be clarified to ensure only adults are allowed to use marijuana.

Legislators are also eyeing the tip credit change in the minimum-wage law that LePage is especially concerned about.

The governor, though, has wider concerns about hiking wages because he insists they’ll force up prices and drive more seniors into poverty. Combined with spending cuts, the governor said he pities the state’s elderly.

“If I wasn’t governor, I don’t see how I could afford to live here,” LePage said.


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