Portland’s future hangs on next moves in Augusta

Posted April 16, 2012, at 9:33 a.m.
Last modified April 17, 2012, at 10:25 a.m.
Chris Hall, Portland Regional Chamber senior vice president for government relations
Chris Hall, Portland Regional Chamber senior vice president for government relations

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: On Friday night it looked like the Maine Legislature had finished up the bulk of its work for 2012. Lawmakers recessed until May 15th when they planned to return to work on one last supplemental budget for MaineCare, a few remaining bills and just maybe a small bond package.

Then on Saturday morning the governor did something no governor has done before – he used his line item veto power to remove two items from the budget that was just passed, state funding for municipal general assistance and the disproportionate share payment to hospitals and psychiatric facilities ( BDN, PPH).

The next move is up to the Legislature. It has five days to convene and vote on whether to overturn the governor’s vetoes. Line item vetoes can be overridden with simple majority votes in the House and Senate. And to keep things complex, the governor has time after that to still veto the entire supplemental budget if he chooses to do so.

From a Portland perspective the bipartisan supplemental budget’s reduction of municipal general assistance forced structural change on the city’s programs, but did so in ways that gave officials time and opportunity to absorb cuts without the threat of increasing property taxes.

The governor’s veto undoes that work and leaves the city’s taxpayers facing substantial tax increases, along with the prospect of increased homelessness in our region.

As of this morning legislative leaders have not made a final decision on when, or if, they will reconvene to consider the governor’s line item vetoes.

As always, if you want to make your voice heard, please contact the Governor, Senate and House leadership and your local lawmakers.

State Policy round-up: The BDN’s Eric Russell had a good article last Friday shedding light on an obscure but critical corner of legislative procedure – the (often dreaded) “Special Appropriations Table.” As Russell explained when a bill proposing new state spending reaches the Senate for final approval the bill goes ‘on the table.’ Final passage of the bill will require funding – and there are always more spending proposals than there are available funds.

Russell listed many of the bills we’ve followed this session which have made their way ‘to the table.’ In May, when lawmakers return for the final act of the 125th Legislature’s 2nd session, we’ll find out how many of these bills will get funded, and how many will ingloriously ‘die on the table.’

Glenn Adams at the AP offered a summary of the session so far.

Elsewhere:

  • Budget: For the 6th time in a row the Appropriations and Financial Affairs delivered a unanimous Committee report on a budget bill ( PPH, BDN, LSJ) that subsequently won very strong House and Senate approval ( PPH, BDN) despite objections from the Governor ( KJ, BDN). Rep. Cathy Chase discussed the budget deal on WGAN. As noted above the Governor’s two line item vetoes have left the budget in limbo for now.

When the Appropriations Committee returns later this month to work on the FY 2013 MaineCare budget deficit they’ll have more revenues than expected ( BDN).

  • Bonds: Garrett Martin wrote about the need for a bond package when the Legislature returns in May.
  • Economic Development: Scott Moody looked at the arrival of ‘demographic winter’ in many of Maine’s rural counties. Laurie Lachance and Ned McCann wrote about the need to invest in early childhood education. The BDN editors looked at immigration policies in Maine. Charles Lawton saw quickening growth in southern Maine as an asset for the entire state.
  • Education: LD 1422, the bill proposing new high school graduation requirements based on standards-based student proficiency, won final approval and awaits action on the special appropriations table ( PPH, MPBN).
  • Energy: The Governor’s LD 1863 proposed changes in Maine’s qualifying renewable power standards – the bill passed the Senate in a watered-down form ( BDN), but the House held to an earlier committee report that differed substantially from the Governor’s proposal ( BDN, LSJ). Eventually the bill died ( BDN). The PUC approved a major wind power investment against staff recommendations ( BDN, MPBN) – the PPH editors commented.
  • Environmental: LD 1853, proposing new mining regulations for Maine, won initial support in the House ( BDN), and later was enacted for the Governor’s signature. Matt Scott and Jan Morrill both wrote to oppose the bill.
  • Health Care: Lawmakers decided to ask OPEGA to investigate DHHS’s failure to inform legislators in a timely manner of tens of thousands of ineligible MaineCare recipients ( PPH, BDN, MPBN, Bill Nemitz). Steve Michaud wrote about Maine’s excellent hospitals – he also wrote about the remaining state debt owed to hospitals. Lisa Miller wrote to refute misconceptions about MaineCare reform.
  • Labor: LD 1725, making changes in Maine’s unemployment system to reduce fraud and eliminate certain double benefits, won final passage in the House and Senate ( BDN, MPBN). LD 309, the public sector ‘right to work’ bill, never got a full vote ( BDN).
  • Regulatory Reform: LD 1810 proposes a new system for compensating landowners for future state regulatory actions that ‘take’ 50 percent or more of the land’s value – the bill drew opposition from editors at the PPH, BDN and LSJ, won initial House approval ( BDN), but remained pending at recess ( BDN).
  • Small Business: A new New England Regional Director for the Small Business Administration is about to be appointed – State Senator Seth Goodall and former Workers Compensation Board official Steve Minkowsky are finalists ( BDN).
  • Taxation: LD 849, the bill inserting personal income tax reductions into the list of priority uses for future state revenue surpluses, is now on the special appropriations table, just one step from becoming law ( BDN). In NYC the Governor set a new goal of reducing Maine’s personal income tax to a 4 percent flat rate ( BDN). LD 1835, which restructures distribution of ‘Revenue Sharing II’ for service center municipalities, won final approval ( BDN, MPBN). M.D. Harmon commented on state and national tax policies, Geoffrey Gratwick commented on Maine tax policies, and Steve Mistler at the LSJ dug into the Tree Growth Tax break.
  • Workers Comp: In the run up to voting on LD 1913, the workers comp reform bill, commentary included Maine State Chamber VP Peter Gore’s explanation of the merits of the bill and three opposing views from Jack McKay, Dean Harding and Richard Wurfel.

The bill won initial party-line House approval ( BDN), and then an amended Senate version of the bill won final approval on a bipartisan basis ( BDN). The amended bill was negotiated in the last hours of Friday’s final session. If it didn’t include everything proponents wanted, it was still a good step toward a better workers comp system for employers and employees.

  • Other: The bill ( LD 1805) seeking disclosure protection for the governor’s working papers died ( BDN, PPH editors), while the bill ( LD 1806) requiring more financial disclosure from lawmakers passed ( KJ).

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).

Just one this week, but it proved to be a big one:

  • LD 1913, An Act To Review and Restructure the Workers’ Compensation System – makes a number of reforms including a restructuring of permanent partial incapacity benefits. Be sure to read Senate Amendment D (S-D (S-564) – scroll down).

What’s happening this week at the State House: Not too much. But you can still find the entire state house schedule right here. Look for the Appropriations Committee to resume meeting on the upcoming DHHS MaineCare supplemental budget later this month.

Around the Region: Four communities in our region, and 19 statewide, have already applied to become certified business friendly municipalities ( BDN). Jesse Thompson from the Portland Society of Architects wrote about the importance of the Cumberland County Civic Center’s renovation to the entire area around the building itself. Elsewhere:

Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth the combined municipal and school budget will be up for public hearing on April 26th ( Forecaster).

In South Portland the School Board declined to reduce its budget, despite a Council request ( Forecaster).

Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland the Council has approved the 2013 municipal budget and changes to the Town’s impact fee ordinance ( Forecaster).

In Falmouth the new OceanView development could include a library for the Town ( Forecaster). A public hearing on the school budget produced support ( PPH).

Portland: An investigation into sewer undercharges in Portland was concluded without a finding of intentional wrong-doing ( PPH, BDN) – comment from the PPH editors, David Farmer and Fred Forsley on WGAN. Elsewhere:

  • Mayor Brennan reacted favorably to the state budget deal that avoided property tax increases ( PDS) (before the line item veto);
  • Community Development Block Grants were awarded last week ( BDN), while the program is under national scrutiny ( BDN);
  • 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: Revisions to the school budget have reduced the expected tax increase after a public hearing ( Current, Forecaster).

Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook the Council may consider revisions to the Town’s sprinkler ordinance ( Current). Plans for MERC closure have been delayed PPH, BDN, MPBN, Current).

In Gorham you can keep up with the entire municipal calendar by visiting the Town’s excellent website.

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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