Legislature must return to address critical issues

By Sen. Kimberley Rosen

Lawmakers may have left Augusta for now, but unfortunately, we left some very important work undone. The House of Representatives was unable to reach an agreement on extending the legislative session, and now we are awaiting word on whether we will be called back to address these matters.

Failing to act on these unresolved matters would have dire consequences for the citizens of Maine, and I believe it is in everyone’s best interest to come back to the table.

One of the most important bills yet to pass is tax conformity. While there has been much discussion and negotiating over this, a bill to take action remains stalled.

The tax conformity bill would align Maine’s tax code with the recent federal tax overhaul. If we were to do nothing, Maine businesses would be forced to keep two sets of books — one to comply with federal taxes and another for Maine taxes. Individuals who file on their own may not be able to use programs such as TurboTax to complete their state returns. If the next Legislature finally passes tax conformity in January, businesses and individuals will then be stuck with the costs and other associated headaches of filing amended returns. It is in everyone’s best interest to take care of this now.

On the table now is a series of tax cuts for Mainers that would be used to offset the federal elimination of the personal exemption that is still included in Maine’s tax code.

Funding for schools is also at risk if the Legislature does not come back. School districts across the state are counting on more than $ 1 billion in the state share of education funding that has been promised for the second year of the current biennial budget. Under normal circumstances, this is simply a routine matter of the Legislature signing off on the funding, but that has not happened yet. The projected loss to schools around the state would be staggering.

Also at stake is funding to address shortfalls in the budget for vital state programs such as direct care workers, those employees who provide basic care services for of elderly Mainers in their homes. Another provides needed money for county jails throughout the state.

The Legislature also left without addressing bonds. As a member of the Transportation Committee, I believe we must act on a proposed $100-million transportation bond that is necessary to maintain our roads and bridges which are a lifeline to our economy, particularly in rural Maine. Another bond would provide funding for the University of Maine System.

Negotiating complicated issues such as these is always a complicated matter, particularly when the players are working in divided government such as Maine has, with a Republican governor, Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate. But the stakes are simply too high for us not to come back into session to deal with them. This is a time when scoring political points must take a back seat for doing what is necessary in order to keep vital government services functioning. It is time to put partisanship aside, because the hardworking citizens of Maine would be the biggest losers if we fail to act.

Republican Sen. Kimberley Rosen of Bucksport is serving her second term in the Maine Senate. She is the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and also serves on the Transportation and Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committees.

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