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Let the Sun Shine In

by Jennifer Gray

Yes, most of us are ready for some sun, but there’s also need for more sunlight on the spending of federal block grants here in Maine. The Health and Human Services Committee is holding a work session this Friday on LD 1435: An Act to Ensure Transparency in the Distribution of Federal Block Grants (Jorgensen)(MANP supports).

Background on LD 1435

This bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to annually develop and submit to the Appropriations Committee proposed plans for expenditures of federal block grant funds for review and approval.

At the hearing, Rep. Jorgensen presented an amendment that:

  • Removes the portion of the bill that requires legislative approval for all expenditures and only requires approval for substantial reductions above 10% and for program elimination.
  • Adds that the Health and Human Services Committee must also review the expenditure plan.

Action

Contact members of the Health and Human Services Committee and urge them to support LD 1435 as amended with Rep. Jorgensen’s amendment.

Key Talking Points

  • LD 1435 would ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) federal block spending plans are public and subject to review and approval by the Legislature’s Appropriations and Health and Human Services Committees.
  • The responsibility for oversight of federal block grant spending is shared between the administrative and legislative branches in other states. This makes a lot of sense as these grants are public tax dollars and warrant appropriate scrutiny as with the allocation of other tax funds in the budget.
  • Nonprofits partner with state government in many ways, including caring for and supporting Maine’s vulnerable citizens. This relationship is greatly hindered when spending plans are unclear. Maine should be finding ways to encourage and support such public/private partnerships as well as opportunities to boost them. Making spending priorities available to the public in advance will be of benefit to these public/private partnerships.
  • The federal government is increasing its reliance on “block granting” and will likely expand them to include Medicaid, housing, health care, training programs which would make transparency even more important.
  • The Legislature needs to be aware of departmental policies and their implementation to fulfill its oversight role.

Additional Updates

“Service Charges”

  • LD 1521, An Act to Amend the Property Tax Laws (Hilliard)(Governor’s bill) (MANP opposes)
    • The committee voted 9-3 ONTP-OTP. Rep.s Pouliot, Hilliard, and Bickford were in the minority. Rep. Ward and Sen. Dow were with the majority ONTP vote.
    • Much of the discussion was whether the committee should carry the bill over, have a study commission, or give the administration the request to submit a new bill in January because they acknowledged that it’s a complicated issue and they’re up against deadlines to report out bills.
    • The Democrats pushed that the property tax issue is much broader than taxing nonprofits and that the solution needs to be looked at in a comprehensive way. There was a lot of frustration that the bill came to the committee so late.
    • Thank you! The turnout at the hearing and the written comments submitted were excellent. Here’s a link to the testimony (click on public testimony).

Property Taxes

  • LD 1121, An Act Regarding the Exclusive Use of Tax Exempt Property (Rep. Kinney) (incidental use)(MANP opposes) ONTP-OTP (12-1)
    • This bill is dead.
  • LD 1076, An Act To Replace Municipal Property Tax Revenue Lost Due to Land Acquisitions under the Land for Maine’s Future Fund (Hanington) (state reimburse communities for loss of property taxes for new Land for Maine’s Future projects)(MANP opposes)
    • This bill is dead.
  • LD 1246 (property tax exemption for land with trails)(MANP is watching) was voted ONTP by the Taxation Committee.
    • This bill is dead.
  • LD 727,  An Act to Protect the Tax Base of Municipalities by Removing the Property Tax Exemption for Land Held for Conservation or Public Access Purposes (Stetkis) (removes exemption for land trusts)(MANP opposes)
    • ONTP-OTP (8-5). Reported out of committee.
    • This bill was tabled in the House. It may run in the House this week.
    • ACTIONIt’s still worth contacting your legislators asking them to oppose LD 727 if you haven’t already. Here’s a link to my blog discussing this bill with talking points.

Surplus Property

  • LD 648, An Act to Expand the Types of Nonprofit Organizations to Which Surplus Property May Be Sold by the State (Grant) (allows nonprofits to purchase surplus property from the state prior to auction)(MANP supports)
    • Was enacted by the House, but was put on the Appropriations Table.
    • That’s where bills go just prior to enactment in the Senate if they have a fiscal note.
    • This bill has a very minor fiscal note.
    • According to the State and Local Government Committee Senate Chair, Sen. Paul Davis, the minor cost will be absorbed and the bill should go through.
    • It’s unclear whether the Governor will veto the bill or not.

Voluntary Payments in Lieu of Taxes

  • LD 1289, An Act to Provide Payments in Lieu of Taxes in the Unorganized Territory (Dill) (creates a mechanism for the state to receive voluntary payments in lieu of taxes in the unorganized part of the state)(MANP supports)
    • The committee amended the bill to address some concerns raised by the unorganized territory administrator and received a unanimous ought to pass as amended vote.
    • It’s still not reported out of committee.

Reimbursement Increase

  • LD 967, An Act to Ensure Access to Community Services for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism (Herbig)(increases reimbursement rates)
    • The Health and Human Services Committee voted on LD 967 last week.
    • It’s a divided report.

Johnson Amendment

  • Here’s a link to a National Law Review article about the President’s executive order regarding the Johnson Amendment.  It’s a quick read and to the point.

This week

  • The Health and Human Services Committee holds a work session on LD 1435 on Friday at 10 a.m.
  • The House may vote on LD 727.

Read

KEY

ONTP = Ought Not to Pass

OTPA = Ought to Pass As Amended

OTP= Ought to Pass

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