Week disrupted by Snowe, snow; lawmakers eye workers’ comp, telecom reform

Posted March 05, 2012, at 8:38 a.m.
Last modified April 17, 2012, at 10:25 a.m.
Chris Hall, Senior VP of Government Relations, Portland Regional Chamber
Chris Hall, Senior VP of Government Relations, Portland Regional Chamber

Editor’s note: This report is compiled weekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent news around state policy, as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.

PRC speaks out

March 5th 2012 Update

PRC speaks out: Senator Olympia Snowe is leaving the U. S. Senate. I mention that just in case you were vacationing on Mars last week and lost all your communications links to Earth.

Senator Snowe spoke at the Portland Chamber’s Eggs & Issue last fall and gave an articulate, insightful speech outlining her upcoming run for re-election. That same eloquence and insight were on display last week as she explained her reasons for leaving government service after 33 years – read her initial announcement, and her Friday op-ed in the BDN where she detailed in her own words why she’s done.

In the last few years I’ve remarked more than once about the contrast between the gridlocked partisanship of national politics (see yesterday’s PPH analysis) and the ability of Maine’s elected leaders to work across party lines to get the big stuff done. Just this session we’ve seen yet another bipartisan state budget deal achieved in the face of long odds – what Washington D.C. calls legislating is a sad sight compared to what Maine leaders accomplish on a regular basis.

Senator Snowe’s roots are planted in the Maine political experience. Yes, our leaders have different views and beliefs, but they work hard to find ways to come together to do what’s best for the state. No, Maine’s elected officials don’t always agree, and sometimes the majority party acts alone. But even those instances of division don’t stand in the way of leaders coming together again to collaborate on the next problem.

Senator Snowe will be missed by most Maine voters. Her disillusion with national political gridlock is a pointed reminder of how lucky we are that state and local politics in Maine are just about as different as possible from the mess we have in Washington right now.

And to Senator Snowe – thank you for your long service, and best of luck in all your future endeavors.

State Policy round-up: Last Thursday’s snow storm, and the week-long “Snowe-storm,” slowed things down considerably at the state house. By the end of this week we may have a better handle on who’s running for what, so for now I’ll suggest skipping the 50+ news stories on that topic and refer readers to any local paper or media outlet for the latest speculation and projected line-up of candidates.

The House of Representatives did take one significant action last week – they voted unanimously to refer questions about State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin’s business activities to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ( BDN, KJ, LSJ, BDN editors comment).

Outside the state house the mayors of Maine’s 5 largest cities have formed a new coalition to share information and work together to protect city interests in the state legislature ( BDN).

Elsewhere:

  • Budget: Eric Russell took a look at the next round of state budget balancing that begins in earnest this week ( BDN). The PPH editors urged legislators to stay on the bipartisan path.
  • Bonds: The Maine Municipal Association’s March 2 nd Legislative Bulletin summarized the current status of possible bonding options at the state house.
  • Ballot watch: The Maine Senate took a preliminary vote to remove matching funds from the Clean Elections Act, in line with U.S. Supreme Court requirements ( BDN).
  • Economic Development: The Governor called for better marketing of Maine sea foods ( BDN). There was more evidence of Maine manufacturing growth ( BDN), and Scott Howard commented. The BDN editors commented on tax incentives.
  • Education: Senator Justin Alfond shared his perspectives on the administration’s budget and proposed education reforms.
  • Energy: John Rohman reflected on the progress Maine is making with energy efficiency.
  • Environmental: Lawmakers remained divided over the county opt-out provisions of LD 1798, the Land Use Regulatory Commission reform bill ( BDN).
  • Health Care: Formation of a state-level health insurance exchange under federal health care reforms has been put off by Republican leaders until next year at the earliest ( BDN).
  • Labor: Proposed reforms to the state’s workers’ comp laws ( HP 1345) remained in the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee – work sessions are scheduled for later this week ( BDN).
  • Real estate: Reforms to the governance of the Maine State Housing Authority ( LD 1778) remain in the works ( BDN). The PPH editors and MSHA Board Chairman Peter Anastos both commented.
  • Regulatory Reform: Telecommunications regulatory reform ( LD 1784) is making its way through the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee – 3 work sessions are coming up this week. Rep. Andre Cushing and Clark Granger both wrote in support of LD 1810, the regulatory takings legislation.
  • Small Business: The Maine Wire reported that Maine’s Small Business Advocate Jay Martin is hard at work – Martin’s position was created last year under LD 1 (the regulatory reform bill). If you have a regulatory problem and you haven’t called Jay yet – do it!
  • Tax policy: The bill ( LD 1826) to kill income tax check-off contributions ( BDN) had a public hearing ( MPBN). Maine’s brick & mortar retailers continued their support for federal internet sales tax reforms ( MPBN).
  • Transportation: Jody Spear wrote to oppose an east-west highway.
  • Welfare reform: Rachael Lowe responded to LSJ coverage of welfare fraud.

Reports: Location Matters: A Comparative Analysis of State Tax Costs on Business was released last week by the Tax Foundation. How do you think Maine ranked?

Not too bad at all. For mature firms we ranked 27th nationally, and for new firms we came in 20th (lower rankings mean less burden). The report is a sophisticated study done with the help of KPMG LLC. Matt Wickenheiser at the BDN took a look at all the study results.

Not every kind of business did well – notably older manufacturing companies faced challenges – but like Ernst & Young’s #1 ranking for Maine’s business investment climate last spring, it’s good to see that we’re moving in the right direction toward an enhanced business investment climate.

Bills to Watch: As legislation is printed we highlight some of the bills you may want to know more about, or participate in. Need to investigate a bill? Just click the LD number below and off you go! (Please remember this isn’t legal advice – for that you must contact your own councilors).

Here are bills printed last week that you may want to know more about:

  • LD 1835, An Act To Restore Equity in Revenue Sharing – changes the distribution of “Revenue Sharing II” funding.
  • LD 1836, An Act To Facilitate Rapid Response by Out-of-state Businesses to State Disasters – suspends licensing, taxing and other bureaucratic requirements for businesses coming into Maine to help with disaster response.
  • LD 1843, An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and the Government Oversight Committee Regarding Quasi-independent State Entities – imposes new reporting and transparency requirements on 28 state agencies as suggested by lawmakers and OPEGA in the wake of the Maine Turnpike Authority’s problems.

What’s happening this week at the State House: In every Update we highlight a wide variety of bills that will affect you, your business and your community. To keep track of the bills that are most important to you, you can find the entire state house schedule right here including public hearings, work sessions and all the other legislative activity around any bill you’re interested in. Make sure to use the navigation buttons on the left to find all the information you need.

Here’s another handy resource – this link takes you to a list of all the legislative committee activities scheduled for the next 5 days.

Around the Region: Municipal data management is an emerging concern for local government – one leading state official is urging private sector solutions ( BDN). Elsewhere:

  • Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth the proposed school budget may increase property taxes by 3% ( Forecaster).
  • In South Portland bids on high school renovation came in higher than hoped ( Current and Forecaster). Proposed changes in parking and traffic flow have Knightville businesses concerned ( PPH, Forecaster, Current).
  • Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland the school budget could be a significant factor in higher property tax rates ( Forecaster).
  • In Falmouth the Council has received a proposal to create a water view overlay zoning district ( Forecaster). The Council will hold a public hearing on 3/26, and the Planning Board will hold one on 4/6.
  • Portland: Portland is the largest municipal provider of social services in Maine – not surprisingly the recent cuts to MaineCare will have a disruptive impact in the City, and upcoming state budget cuts will bring even more ( Forecaster). Elsewhere:
  • The public provided feedback on what they’d like to see in Portland’s next School Superintendent ( BDN) – Dr. Morse is headed to New Hampshire ( Forecaster);
  • The Riverton Elementary School – once one of the City’s worst – has had a stellar comeback in just one year ( BDN);
  • The PPH editors weighed in on a West End zoning dispute ;
  • The City’s neighborhood associations are working to find a common agenda ( Forecaster); and
  • For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.
  • Scarborough: The Scarborough Public Library is working on a new long-term strategic plan ( Current).
  • Westbrook and Gorham: Westbrook has a new 10-year comprehensive plan ( PPH). The School Department’s Central Office has emerged as a possible alternative to City Hall ( Current).
  • In Gorham the proposed school budget may increase spending by $1.2 million ( Current).

Want to speak out? It’s easy to do, and believe it or not, it can really work. Notice that all the legislative committees mentioned above are linked – just click on them and you’ll get emails, phone numbers and everything you need to make your voice heard in the state house. If you need help, just email me!

Feedback: So what do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or on other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email if you’d like to share your feedback with me – and thank you!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by the generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. If you’d like to become a Partner, please contact Chamber CEO Godfrey Wood. And for more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber – businesses building a better community - just click here.

Chris Hall is senior vice president for government relations at the Portland Regional Chamber. He can be contacted at chall@portlandregion.com. Partners for Progress Policy Updates are supported by contributions from Partners for Progress.

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