The Star-Herald

Legislature to hold session days

When I decided to run for the Maine House of Representatives, I had no idea that we were about to experience a pandemic. I also never thought that, this late in the year, the Legislature would meet as a body only one time (Dec. 2), to be sworn in at the Augusta Civic Center and not the Statehouse. 

That day cost Maine taxpayers an estimated $145,000. Committee and constituent work has been steady since then, but conducted exclusively over Zoom, YouTube and other online platforms. The public is not allowed to visit the State House, which has greatly reduced testimony on pending legislation. This has been problematic in so many ways and even more challenging for new members trying to learn the process and involve our constituents.      

We just learned that Senate and House leadership has decided to hold session days the week of March 10 and 11 at the Augusta Civic Center. There are a number of items likely to be taken up. First and foremost, the Legislature must act on the Supplemental Budget proposed by the Governor. The biggest issue associated with that is whether to adopt federal tax changes made by Congress to help Maine businesses and their employees survive the pandemic.   

The Legislature is also in the midst of creating its next two-year budget. Thankfully, the Maine Constitution requires a balanced budget. This has protected Maine from going the way of many large states that have grossly overspent their resources even before COVID-19. Although recent revenue forecasts have improved, Maine is still facing a $650 Million budget shortfall over the next three years. That is less than the $1.4 billion projected last summer, but substantial. 

The Governor’s proposed two-year budget is $8.4 billion. Her first biennial budget was just over $8 billion, an 11% increase over the previous one, and close to $1 billion dollars more. This large increase in spending took place well before the pandemic hit. 

I plan to carefully review proposed spending plans and the merits of bills reported out of committee to be acted on during the upcoming session. Here are a few principles that will help guide my decision-making: 

  1. State government should not be immune from the economic hardships experienced by its citizens.
  2. Funds should go to needs, not wants, and focus on protecting our most vulnerable citizens, and 
  3. It is important that we do not raise taxes on small businesses, workers and families already hurt by COVID-19. 

I want to thank the people of Presque Isle for the opportunity to serve in the Legislature. I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, or ways that my office can be of assistance in the months ahead.  

Rep. Joseph Underwood, R-Presque Isle, represents Maine House District 147, which encompasses most of Presque Isle. 

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