At the State House: budget woes lead to reorganization proposals

By Chris Hall, Portland Regional Chamber
Posted March 19, 2012, at 9:09 a.m.

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: 

Late last month lawmakers easily passed a supplemental budget for state fiscal year 2012, but they left the harder 2013 budget questions for another day.

That day arrived last week, at least for non-MaineCare budget items, with the release of LD 1870 which offers a series of human service and higher education spending cuts, some additional funding for certain programs, and new tax initiatives (more details in the PPH and the BDN), all intended to balance the state’s FY 2013 budget.  Commissioner Sawin Millet, the Governor’s Budget Chief, went on WGAN to explain the philosophy behind the Governor’s mix of new spending and new cuts.

There was plenty of budget coverage (PPH, BDN, LSJ, MPBN), and lots of ideas to ponder (like the elimination of the State Planning Office and redistribution of its functions – see below for more), but in larger cities the focus was on one thing:  substantial cuts to and restructuring of municipal general assistance.

Tom Bell in the PPH captured the voices of urban mayors all across the state:  less state funding of municipal general assistance will inevitably increase local property taxes.  New restrictions on the use of general assistance funding, like a 90-days-per-year cap on general assistance-funded housing, will increase homelessness and hurt landlords.  The PPH editors agreed.

As the budget was presented to lawmakers last week Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the administration is developing a general assistance block grant for municipalities, allowing communities to set their own eligibility standards for assistance  – but municipal reaction wasn’t good (PPH).

Some things seem obvious from here:  Increased homelessness and higher property taxes aren’t going to improve our economy.  Neither will unsustainable social spending.  What’s needed most is the time to redesign programs in ways that are more affordable and more effective in moving people from dependence to independence.

But whether such a tall order can be accomplished in the few remaining weeks of this legislative session remains to be seen.

Senate watch:  On Thursday the 24-hour cycle of speculation on who’s running, and who’s not running, in Maine’s open U.S. Senate race ended when 10 candidates filed their signatures to appear on this June’s Republican and Democratic primary ballots.  John Richardson at the PPH and Eric Russell at the BDN both sorted out the candidates and their chances, and the PPH editors commented on the field.  Matt Gagnon, Doug Rooks, Kay Rand and M.D. Harmon all talked about the 11th candidate’s place in the race, and the PPH’s Jonathan Riskind got advice for Angus King from the U. S. Senate’s two other independents.

State Policy round-up:   State workers will be able to bring their guns to the workplace parking lot, just like their private sector colleagues, once LD 1603 is finally enacted in the Senate this week (PPH, LSJ, BDN, MPBN).  The Governor held Capitol-for-a-day in Oxford County (PPH).  LD 1805, protecting the Governor’s working papers, was passed in committee (BDN).  LD 1843, seeking greater oversight of quasi-public agencies, had its hearing (BDN).  Groups submitted legal briefs to the Law Court as it prepared to take up questions about State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin’s business dealings (KJ).

Elsewhere:

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).

Last week we saw another group of significant bills presented, notwithstanding efforts to adjourn the session by early April.  Here are some of the new bills that could directly affect you:

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: The Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS) has assembled its list of proposed priority infrastructure investments called ’22 by 22’ (Forecaster).  The Governor’s ‘Certified Business Friendly Communities’ initiative received a lot of positive attention last week (BDN).  Elsewhere:

In South Portland the debate continued over changes to Ocean Street parking (PPH, Forecaster, Current).  A ‘no-tax-increase’ school budget was offered as a starting point for further discussion (Forecaster).

In Falmouth while the proposed municipal budget increases by 3%, no tax increase is expected as a result (Forecaster, PPH).  The school budget is up almost 12% (PPH).

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.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/19/politics/at-the-statehouse-budget-woes-lead-to-reorg-proposals/ printed on July 24, 2014